Petrol Prices Through History: Which World Events Affected the Price at the Pumps?

The coronavirus outbreak has had a huge impact on the price of petrol. Before the crisis, the per-litre price sat at around 119.9p, just as it has for two years. Now, a global slump in demand has seen prices plummet, with some filling stations offering petrol at less than a £1 a litre.

Great news for drivers then, but with social distancing measures still in place, it’s hardly a cause to jump for joy. In fact, the unprecedented fall in demand for fuel has led to growing concerns that some independent fuel retailers will be forced to close, meaning that fuel prices are likely to be higher when lockdown lifts because there’s less local competition.

The impact coronavirus has had on fuel prices has been striking, but it’s by no means unique. Throughout history, fuel prices have always fallen and risen in line with global events,  oil is one of those commodities which is heavily  affected by political upheaval or a sudden and widespread fall in demand.

Given the remarkable impact COVID-19 has had on petrol prices, we thought it would be interesting to see which other world events have been felt at the pumps. To do this, we’ve sourced petrol prices from 1983 to 2020, giving you a timeline look at how petrol prices have changed over the past 40 years.

What Affected Petrol Prices in the 1980s?

In the 1980s, petrol prices sat at around 36.7p a litre, which was cheap even for the period. The low cost of fuel led to a boom in the number of cars on UK roads, with drivers keen to take advantage of cheap travel to get from A to B.

When you look at petrol prices for the decade, one year which stands out is 1985, when fuel leapt from 38.7p to 42.8p. This was likely due to a series of economic reforms introduced by the new leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, which had a direct impact on the wholesale price of crude oil.

Petrol prices fell back to around 38p a litre for the remainder of the 80s, but never again would the per-litre price be as cheap. Here’s a quick look at the changing cost of fuel throughout the decade.

How Much Did Petrol Cost in the 1990s?

The 1990s would prove a pivotal decade for fuel prices. Between 1990 and 2000, the per-litre price of fuel rose by a record 36.7p, from 40.2p at the start of the decade to 76.9p at the end. Never before had the cost of petrol risen so quickly, and it was all down to one thing: the fuel duty escalator.

Launched in March 1993, the fuel duty escalator was a new fuel duty policy aimed at curbing the number of cars on the road, which had reached record levels in the 1980s. The escalator initially set fuel duty at 3% above inflation, and later increased twice, reaching 6% before being suspended.

The fuel duty escalator was intended to make fuel more expensive, effectively discouraging people from using their cars quite as much. And discourage it did, with mass protests taking place against the policy towards the end of the decade.

Here’s a look at how petrol prices changed throughout the 1990s.

Was Petrol Cheaper in the 2000s?

Despite reformation of the fuel duty escalator, petrol prices continued to increase in the 2000s, with several major global events pushing up the wholesale price of oil. At the start of the decade, petrol cost 76.9p per litre. By 2010, the fuel had hit a record high of 111.9p, an increase of 35p.

A handful of world events are attributed to the spike in petrol prices in the 2000s, not least the devastating impact of the September 11 attacks and the subsequent fallout of the War on Terror. Then there was the subsequent financial crash of 2008, a year in which fuel prices rose above £1 a litre for the first time in history.

Explore the complete timeline of petrol prices throughout the 2000s below.

What World Events Affected Petrol in the 2010s?

The 2010s saw the highest petrol prices on record, with fuel duty and VAT making UK fuel prices among the world’s most expensive. At the start of the decade, petrol cost 111.9p per litre, with the cost reaching its peak in 2013, when a litre of fuel would set you back 138.9p.

Fuel duty and VAT are largely to blame for the colossal spikes in the cost of petrol seen in the 2010s. With new rates introduced by the Tory government as a means of helping the economy recover from the 2008 crash, drivers faced some of the world’s most expensive per-litre fuel prices.

What is remarkable is the huge change in fuel costs from 1983 to 2013. In a 30-year period, the price of petrol rose by a whopping £1.02 per litre – that’s an increase of 116% in just three decades.

Here’s a look at the changing face of fuel prices in the 2010s.

Thankfully, the price of fuel has remained relatively stable since 2013, with prices averaging around 119.9p a litre. The unprecedented fall in fuel prices causes by the COVID-19 outbreak has seen fuel drop to prices not seen since the 2000s, as demand plummets and global markets struggle to predict what might happen next.

Whatever the future holds, Redex will be here to help you get more from every tank of fuel. Our engine additives and fuel system cleaners improve performance and economy, so you can enjoy a better drive. For more information or are our full product range, visit the homepage.

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