It should come as no real surprise that the prices for food and drinks at motorway service areas are more expensive than those you’d expect to pay at local supermarkets or at newsagents. Motorway services tend to justify any such premium because they are convenient; they do after all save motorists the time and effort of diverting from their route in such of sustenance. However, the Institute of Advanced Motorists has recently taken issue with the size and scale of said premium, arguing that charging motorists an average of £2.09 for a bottle of water – double that which would be charged on a London High Street – and £3.99 for a basic cheese sandwich, is not only a rip-off but verges on being dangerous, due to motorists deferring or avoiding making regular stops altogether when tackling long journeys.

IAM chief executive Simon Best said: “Motorway service areas are supposed to be for motorists to eat, drink and freshen up. It’s very important to have a break every two hours and these costs will put people off stopping. Tired motorists pose a danger to themselves and other road users.”

Arguably, regular stops are even more important for drivers of older vehicles. Primarily as classic cars are usually far more demanding to drive than modern cars over longer distances. There are numerous reasons for this; a greater awareness being required to account for the generally greater braking distances needed due to our cars’ more primitive braking systems and a lack of driver aids, such as cruise control for instance, being but two examples. 

This is why the IAM is concerned by figures from its survey of 2238 motorists that suggests that the majority of respondents are dissatisfied with the value for money available at motorway service areas: More than half of respondents described the price of food and drink at motorway services as unreasonable while just under two-thirds of those surveyed say that they are most likely to stop at motor service areas just to use the toilet facilities.

It is worth pointing at that there are alternatives to motorway service areas. Websites such as provide details of accommodation, refreshments and local attractions just off the UK motorway and main A-road network. Sat navs can also be programmed to find stops for food and drink which aren’t motorway services. Of course, there is the argument that you could make a pack up before setting off – and indeed many classic car enthusiasts do this before attending a show.

With petrol prices averaging about ten pence per litre more than at off-motorway forecourts, the IAM is also calling for a complete review of motorway prices.

In addition, the IAM is seeking legislation that will force filling stations to advertise not only their fuel prices, but those of their competitors – something that already occurs across the Channel in France.

Simon Best continued: “17,000 people every year break down on the motorway simply because they have run out of fuel, which can cause lane closures and delays for everyone. High petrol prices will put people off filling up. Forcing stations to advertise their competitors’ prices would drive costs down.”

Of course, in the majority of cases it’s possible to avoid motorway filling stations all together by filling up before commencing a major journey. However, this is not always the case and we, like the IAM, question whether the high premium we pay for conveniently available fuel is justified. This is in spite of the large rental charges and the cost of running their sites 24 hours a day – two of the key points that franchises such as Welcome Break and Moto often cite to justify their higher costs.

Are motorway services a rip-off? Do you try to avoid motorway service areas where possible? Let us know and leave a comment below.