Petrol and the alternatives

There are ways you can lighten the cost of fuel for both you and the environment.
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  • Updated:9 Dec 2008

03.What can I do?

If doing without a car is not an option, you don’t have to buy a “green” car to make a significant difference to your bills and environmental impact. To see which combination of the alternatives suits you, see the (see the Comparing cars and fuels table table)


Choosing the right car for your needs and driving style has a massive impact on your costs. If you just drive around town, you may not need a family car. Instead, the inexpensive two-seater SmartForTwo runs on petrol and is comparable on fuel and emissions to the much more expensive Prius.

Small cars can cost about 1/3 less to run than a 4WD, and cars such as the Hyundai Getz are cheap to buy so their whole-of-life costs are less than half that of a 4WD such as the Nissan Patrol. Could renting a 4WD suffice for the times you need off-road or towing capacity?

As well as car size, include fuel efficiency as a purchasing criteria. It’s easy; all new vehicles have to carry a fuel consumption label. If carrying seven people is what you need, buying a Kia Carnival instead of a Patrol can save you almost $7 every 100km on top of the $20,000+ you save at purchase.

The Toyota Corolla is a surprise pick in the Green Vehicle Guide. It’s a normal car that runs on regular unleaded fuel, has respectable fuel use and emissions figures, is relatively inexpensive to buy and is popular enough that you may be able to find a recent secondhand model.

Hybrid vehicles allow the use of two fuel sources. A car that can switch between LPG in one tank to petrol from another could be considered a hybrid. The classic hybrid, the Toyota Prius, combines a conventional petrol engine with a rechargeable electric motor to achieve better fuel economy.

The batteries recharge during normal driving when deceleration occurs. The Prius achieves tiny fuel consumption figures of 3.9L/100km. The catch, of course, is the high purchase price. This puts the relatively small Prius on par with many medium-sized passenger vehicles when it comes to whole-of-life costs.

Switch fuels

In 2007 only 2.5% of vehicles registered in Australia used alternative fuel systems. There can be significant barriers to switching, such as converting your car or buying a new car, and some alternative fuels can save you money in the short term but could be expensive for you and/or the environment in the longer term, so choose wisely.

The main benefits of E10 are environmental. Using E10 makes your vehicle 3% less efficient and as the fuel isn't 3% cheaper, it isn't a good deal. You end up paying slightly more — about 10 cents for every 100 km in a Corolla — for only a small greenhouse benefit.

To switch to biodiesel you need a diesel car. The most commonly available blend, B20, is slightly cheaper per litre and emits less greenhouse gases than regular diesel (see the Comparing cars and fuels table).

Even regular diesel, however, can be considerably cheaper to run than an equivalent petrol model: a diesel Nissan Patrol costs about $7 less than a petrol version for every 100 km and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. New diesel vehicles are generally much cleaner than in the past, because they are fitted with better soot filters. And the standard for regular diesel's sulphur concentration (which affects local air pollution ) will be improved from January 2009.

LPG currently costs less than half as much as petrol. In a Ford Falcon, despite fuel economy decreasing, this means a saving of more than $6 every 100 km. Even though this means that it's cheaper running an LPG Falcon than a Toyota Corolla, you can't feel so good about the greenhouse impact, because emissions are 40% higher than a Corolla’s and not even a significant improvement on a regular Falcon’s.

Drive smarter and less

Since 2003 we've seen a 10% increase in the number of passenger vehicles on Australian roads. And each car travels an average of 15,000 km a year. Of course governments need to take action on infrastructure, particularly public transport and better town planning, to eventually give you more transport options.

There's a need to conserve fuel, and we aren't all able to switch cars or fuel type in the short term. So remember that it's not only the car and the fuel, but also your driving behaviour that determines the costs you bear and the environmental impacts.

Driving smarter is part of the solution but given that about half the car trips in Australian cities are less than five kilometres we could all look at driving less often. Converting even a few of these trips to walking, cycling or public transport makes an impact.

If you only need a car occasionally, perhaps a car sharing scheme like Goget would suit you. Members can book a vehicle online or over the phone, for as long as you need it. They currently operate in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

‘Eco-driving’ saves you money

A car’s reported fuel consumption, in litres per 100km, is based on driving under standardised test conditions. But your driving style can increase that figure dramatically – and for every extra litre of petrol you use per 100km, it now costs $225 per year (based on a petrol price of $1.50 per litre and 15,000km per year). So any way you can reduce that is going to be good for your wallet.

“Eco-driving”, as it’s been termed, not only benefits the environment but saves you money and stress as well. To be an eco-driver you should:

  • Plan your trip well Try to achieve several tasks with the one trip.
  • Take your time You use less fuel if you drive a bit slower.
  • Shed the load Take unnecessary items out of the car and take off your roof rack when it’s not in use.
  • Keep it smooth Avoid hard braking and acceleration.
  • Switch off Ease up on the air conditioning, and stop the car and walk in to the fast food restaurant rather than idle in a long queue.
  • Maintain it Regularly check that the tyre pressure is right for your car and tyres, and have the car serviced.

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