Currently reading: UK fuel prices not being cut because of general election "distraction"
RAC claims petrol and diesel costs are "far higher" than they should be but retailers argue they can't go lower

The distraction of the general election is allowing retailers to charge “far higher” prices for fuel than they should be, according to the RAC.

This is because a lack of political pressure, which has previously forced down pump prices, is allowing garages to keep margins high, the organisation claims.

Currently, the average price of a litre of petrol on UK forecourts is 146.3p and diesel is 151.5p. 

This means that profit margins are now as high as 14p for petrol and 16p for diesel, whereas the long-term average for each has been 8p, says the RAC

As a result, the cost of brimming a 55-litre tank of a typical family car, such as a VW Golf, costs on average £3 more for petrol (£80.50) and £5.50 more for diesel (£83.30).

The RAC says lower prices in Northern Ireland, at 141.1p for petrol and 141.9p for diesel, show how cheap fuel should be across the rest of the UK.

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “While there has been much focus on fuel since the Competition and Markets Authority concluded the biggest retailers had overcharged drivers by £900 million in 2022, margins are once again staying persistently high.

“Pump prices haven’t fallen in line with the reduction in wholesale prices, so drivers across the UK – with the exception of those in Northern Ireland, where fairer prices are charged – are once again losing several pounds every time they fill up.”

Williams added: "Having monitored prices for so long, we believe there’s no good reason for retailers not cutting their prices at the pumps far further. We can only think they’re hoping no one will notice due to the distraction of the general election."

In response, the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said the RAC’s data overlooks “several critical factors”.

PRA executive director Gordon Balmer said: “We must consider the significant increases in operating costs, reduced fuel volumes post-pandemic, and the substantial investments required to transition to a low-carbon transportation system.

“These factors mean that fuel retailers need to earn more from fuel sales to stay in business and invest in the future.”

What determines the price of fuel?

The price of petrol and diesel you buy at the pump is largely determined by the wholesale price of Brent crude oil. 

However, fluctuations in the price of this can take weeks to filter through to the forecourts.

The price of crude oil has gone up nearly $12 per barrel since the start of July 2023 to around $96 in October and now fallen to around $78.

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The long-term cost of petrol

In July 2023, a major report from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that drivers paid on average 6p per litre (ppl) more for fuel in 2022 as supermarkets took advantage of weakened competition and inflated pump prices.

CMA chief Sarah Cardell, who said supermarkets were usually the cheapest place to buy fuel and market anchors, said the rising of prices would have had “a greater impact on vulnerable people, particularly those in areas with less choice of fuel stations.”

The report found the rise was instigated by Asda  – which was also fined £60,000 for not co-operating fully with the CMA investigation – and Morrisons, the two cheapest fuel sellers, which last year each made the decision to target higher margins. 

Asda’s fuel margin target in 2023 was more than three times what it had been for 2019, while Morrisons doubled its margin target in the same period. 

Other retailers, including Sainsbury’s and Tesco, didn't respond “in the way you would expect in a competitive market” and “instead raised their prices in line with these changes”, the CMA found.

“Taken together, this indicates that competition has weakened and reinforces the need for action,” the report added.

Diesel prices were also slow to drop in 2023, partially down to Asda ‘feathering’ its prices (reducing them more slowly as wholesale prices fell) and other firms not responding competitively to that. 

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The CMA estimated that drivers have paid 13ppl more for diesel from January 2023 to the end of May 2023 than if margins had been at their historic average.

“Competition at the pump is not working as well as it should be, and something needs to change swiftly to address this,” said Cardell.

As such, the CMA recommended a "fuel finder scheme" to give drivers access to live, station-by-station fuel prices on their phones or sat-navs. This would “help revitalise competition in the retail road fuel market.”

Cardell added: “We need to reignite competition among fuel retailers. This [scheme] would end the need to drive round and look at the prices displayed on the forecourt and would ideally enable live price data on sat-navs and map apps.”

The CMA also recommended bringing in a new monitoring body to “hold [the] industry to account.”

On this, RAC spokesman Williams said: “The fact that drivers appear to have lost out to the tune of nearly £1 billion as a result of increased retailer margins on fuel is nothing short of astounding in a cost of living crisis and confirms what we’ve been saying for many years: that supermarkets haven’t been treating drivers fairly at the pumps.

“It’s all about action now, and we very much hope the government follows through with both of the CMA’s recommendations. 

“While forcing retailers to publish pump prices is a positive step for drivers, what’s of far more significance is the creation of a fuel-monitor function within government which, we very much hope, actively monitors wholesale prices to ensure forecourts don’t overcharge when the cost they pay to buy fuel drops. 

“Without this, we fear drivers will continue to get a raw deal."

Murray Scullion

Murray Scullion
Title: Digital editor

Murray has been a journalist for more than a decade. During that time he’s written for magazines, newspapers and websites, but he now finds himself as Autocar’s digital editor.

He leads the output of the website and contributes to all other digital aspects, including the social media channels, podcasts and videos. During his time he has reviewed cars ranging from £50 - £500,000, including Austin Allegros and Ferrari 812 Superfasts. He has also interviewed F1 megastars, knows his PCPs from his HPs and has written, researched and experimented with behavioural surplus and driverless technology.

Murray graduated from the University of Derby with a BA in Journalism in 2014 and has previously written for Classic Car Weekly, Modern Classics Magazine,, and CAR Magazine, as well as

Will Rimell

Will Rimell
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Will is a journalist with more than eight years experience in roles that range from news reporter to editor. He joined Autocar in 2022 as deputy news editor, moving from a local news background.

In his current role as deputy news editor, Will’s focus is with Autocar and Autocar Business; he also manages Haymarket's aftermarket publication CAT.

Writing is, of course, a big part of his role too. Stories come in many forms, from interviewing top executives, reporting from car launches, and unearthing exclusives.

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HiPo 289 17 June 2024

Had to buy some diesel this morning for a borrowed van.  I'd forgotten how smelly and dirty it is.   Also, there was diesel all over the handle and trigger when I lifted it, so the cashier had to spray my hands and give me some paper towels to clean it all off.   This is a very poor experience compared to charging an EV.  I don't miss buying fuel one bit.  

Dcs54 21 February 2024

My local Tesco has raised the diesel price only by 2p, so there is now 10p difference between petrol and diesel. How come in Europe it's the same price.



Peter Cavellini 21 February 2024

Buy one less Coffee/Tea?, seriously, five years ago you paid ,well where I live, about £1.55 a litre, a weeks fuel cost me about £55.00 ,ok, some of you will use double that in the same time maybe more for some, but, if you made your Coffee in the morning before you left and stuck it in an insulated cup it would be far cheaper and y might find you have more cash to cover the short term increase.