Petrol prices can pump through your hip pocket in a heartbeat, but there is one way to beat the bowser. Fuel price apps can help you find the cheapest petrol anywhere in Australia, so you don't get gouged at the gas station – and you can use most free of charge.
There are plenty of apps available. Some are run by state/territory governments while others rely on motorists submitting data during the day. They all advertise accurate, up-to-date prices, but some don't quite live up to that claim.
So, we grabbed our car and visited various cities and towns along the east coast to help you find the best app for cheap fuel.
Travelling through New South Wales, the ACT, Queensland and Victoria (Wodonga), we tested dozens of apps including Petrol Spy Australia, Fuel Map Australia, GasBuddy, Simples Fuel and state-based apps like NSW Fuel Check and Fair Fuel (RACQ).
We checked for price accuracy, ease of use, special features and more.
Fuel price apps claim to provide up-to-date petrol prices across states, territories and in some cases, the entire country. They fall into one of two broad categories:
1. Government database apps
New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory governments maintain mandatory fuel price databases. Service station operators log updates whenever they change their prices. This information is shared with motorists via a number of platforms:
- New South Wales is the only state with a government database app that's developed and released by the state government.
- Northern Territory and Western Australia have similar websites with a mobile version, but neither government has released a dedicated app.
- Queensland allows third-party developers to access the databases, to produce apps that utilise accurate data. However, the state government has not released its own app.
- The Queensland government is trialling mandatory fuel price reporting. The trial is due to end and go in for review in December 2020.
Not only do database apps tend to be more accurate, they can also display data across the entire state, including areas with smaller populations, as they don't rely on user-submitted data. But while you can download and install them wherever you are, they will only display government data in their respective states or territories.
2. Crowdsourced apps
States and territories without government databases rely on user-submitted data. They tend to be less accurate, especially outside of densely populated areas, but they can be quite effective in areas with a large number of active users.
Unlike government apps, crowdsourced alternatives can deliver data nationwide. This includes states and territories where fuel databases are mandatory, and some will even use that information over crowdsourced prices (depending on location). But most aren't exactly clear on when government data kicks in.
Government and crowdsourced apps can also point you to nearby petrol stations if you're travelling through an unfamiliar area. Again however, crowdsourced apps rely on users to enter the location of petrol stations, whereas this information is required in states/territories with regulated databases.
To test accuracy, we downloaded a number of popular government and third-party apps that gather information from official databases and/or users. We travelled to 20 different petrol stations in each of these four locations (12 in Wodonga), to compare advertised prices against the apps.
We couldn't test accuracy in the other states/territories due to the costs involved. Note that accuracy scores are contextual. For example, if an app is available in NSW and Victoria, then it will have different results depending on how it performed in each state.
Apps with lower accuracy scores either provided inaccurate prices, or didn't display any data when we arrived at specific petrol stations.
The ACT doesn't have a government database, so you'll need to use an app with crowdsourced prices. We found that Petrol Spy Australia provided very accurate information in and around the Canberra CBD, in all but a couple of locations.
New South Wales (Sydney)
Not only does New South Wales have a mandatory petrol price database, the state government has also released a fuel-tracking app called NSW FuelCheck. Unsurprisingly, the government app prices are accurate 100 percent of the time, and Petrol Spy is the same. My NRMA, Pumped Fuel, Fuel Map Australia and Vroom Fuel Price Compare also deliver excellent results.
App developers can access the government database in Queensland. Pictured - Petrol Spy.
While Queensland has a statewide database, the government does not provide direct public access. Instead, third-party developers can link it to their apps, so you can receive real-time updates. The Queensland Consumers Association also encourages people to use these apps, not just to save money, but to encourage the state government to maintain the mandatory database after the trial period is over.
Petrol Spy and Fuel Map Australia are the best fuel price apps in Queensland. Each one provided very accurate prices in and around Brisbane, though they were occasionally off by a few cents.
We tested apps in Wodonga for two reasons:
- Victoria does not have a mandatory fuel price database.
- It gave us an opportunity to test apps outside a capital city.
GasBuddy is the only app with very good price accuracy in Wodonga, while Petrol Spy, which is among the best performers in other locations, is just OK. This is a good example of how much crowdsourced apps can vary, depending on location and the size of their userbase.
While Petrol Spy did not perform very well in Wodonga, we still suggest giving it a go in Melbourne, as it consistently performs well in capital cities. But keep GasBuddy on hand if you're travelling around rural or regional Victoria. Also, MotorMouth didn't deliver any data in Wodonga, even though it claims to cover the entire country.
Our ease of use test assesses navigation within the app, data presentation, general performance and whether there are any ads. (Note, myfuelnt is not available as an app – we tested the mobile-optimised browser version instead.)
New South Wales and Northern Territory motorists are in luck – not only do these governments provide public access to their databases, the apps/mobile optimised websites are very easy to use. The cost comparison map is clear and concise, each one lets you sort by price or distance from your location, and they even provide price trend graphs.
Fuel Map Australia is the easiest nationwide app to use, though the default map shows a very wide area. This can be slow to load and quite cluttered once everything appears.
Though all the apps we tested are free, three displayed ads at the bottom of the screen – ServoTrack, Petrol Spy and GasBuddy.
Most fuel apps don't force you to create an account, but myNRMA does require an NRMA membership. MotorMouth is the only fuel app in our test that encourages email registration and it doesn't explain why.
Every app in our test can help you find common types of fuel. But what if you're looking for something a little more specialised like Bio Diesel, Ad Blue, or a charger for your electric vehicle? You many need to grab a specific app depending on your vehicle.
Look for these features in your app. They can make finding cheap fuel even easier.
- Show fuel near your location
- View fuel prices on a map
- View nearby fuel prices in a list
- Filter by retailer/brand
- Route view: displays fuel prices along a preset route
- Cycle/trends view: provides data on fuel price trends, to help you identify the cheapest time or day to fill up
- Favourites: save service stations you regularly visit
- Notifications: your phone will alert you when fuel prices hit a certain point, or you're close to cheap petrol (requires GPS)