Petrol prices can pump through your hip pocket in a heartbeat, but there is a way to beat the bowser. Fuel price apps can help you find the cheapest petrol anywhere in Australia, so you don't get gouged on gas – and you can use most of them free of charge.
Some apps 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 of Australia 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 PetrolSpy Australia, Fuel Map Australia, MotorMouth, Simples: Compare & Save, and state-based apps like FuelCheck (NSW) and Fair Fuel (RACQ).
We looked at 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. But the process of logging and publishing that information varies depending on where you live.
Each state and territory, aside from Victoria and the ACT, requires service stations to submit their fuel prices each day. When we last looked at these apps in 2019, Queensland was trialling this system and South Australia had no such scheme. Since then, Queensland has fully implemented mandatory reporting and South Australia has begun its own trial.
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'll only display government data in their respective states or territories.
These prices are logged in relevant government databases which are made available to the public. There are two types of apps that make use of each state and territory database and a third option that relies on community support.
Government database apps
The NSW and Tasmanian governments develop and maintain their own apps and websites. Western Australia (FuelWatch) and the Northern Territory (MyFuel NT) have government-run websites but lack dedicated apps. You can still access the websites via the web browser on your phone or tablet but it's a little clunky.
Queensland and South Australia don't have government-run apps but do allow third-party software developers to access their databases. You can find a list of approved apps on each government's website. Some third-party developers are also allowed to access the databases in NSW, WA, Tasmania and the Northern Territory (e.g. PetrolSpy in NSW and WA).
These rely on users manually entering prices that they see while out and about. They're the only option in Victoria and the ACT where mandatory reporting doesn't exist but you'll find crowdsourced apps operating in every state and territory.
The main problem with this system is that there's no way to verify the information. You just have to hope that users are entering prices correctly and on time. For example, you may find cheap petrol only to realise the app is three days out of date and prices have since gone through the roof. Meanwhile you're already at the servo with a car that's running on empty.
And while you'll get good feedback for common fuel types like E10 and U91, information for specialty fuels such as LPG or biofuel may not be as readily available. There's also no impetus for the developers to include these in their apps, unlike states that have mandatory reporting.
In order to find the apps that live up to their price accuracy claims, we run field tests in Sydney, Brisbane, the ACT and Wodonga (Victoria). We opt for Wodonga rather than Melbourne as it's an opportunity to test these apps outside a capital city, in a state that doesn't have mandatory reporting.
We also assess how easy each app is to use (though this takes place in the CHOICE labs).
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.
Australian Capital Territory
Because the ACT doesn't have mandatory reporting or a fuel price database, motorists are forced to rely on crowdsourced apps for information. Fortunately, it seems that PetrolSpy has a robust community of active users in the capital as 90% of the locations we checked matched its prices. MotorMouth and Simples shared second place with 95% accuracy.
However, we found PetrolSpy easier to use than Simples and MotorMouth, with the latter having a couple of strange shortcomings. Firstly, you need to tap each location on the map in order to see fuel prices, which feels like an unnecessary step, and even then information is limited.
It also caps you at 30 reveals, which seems like a lot, but there doesn't seem to be any reason for this restriction to exist. Overall functionality is also pretty limited unless you register an email address, though registration is free. Meanwhile, Simples doesn't have list or trend views.
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 FuelCheck. Interestingly its performance in our price accuracy test has dropped a little since our last assessment.
App developers can access the government database in Queensland. Pictured: PetrolSpy.
In 2019 prices were accurate 100% of the time. But this time it scored 90%, which is still excellent, but anything less than 100% is a bit odd given the source of information. MotorMouth and PetrolSpy, which also source data from mandatory reporting, achieved 90% as well.
Where FuelCheck takes the lead is in the ease of use test. It's much easier to use than the alternatives, it doesn't require an account and it doesn't have any ads.
Although Queensland has mandatory reporting, there are no government-run fuel apps available. Instead, third-party developers are allowed to access the real-time price database. PetrolSpy was accurate 100% of the time, followed by Simples and Vroom Fuel Price Compare at 95%.
But while Simples and Vroom are both easy enough to navigate, they lack some features found in PetrolSpy that hurt their ease of use scores. Neither app has a list view option or price trends, which can help you work out which days have the cheapest fuel.
PetrolSpy 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 doesn't have a mandatory fuel price database.
- It gave us an opportunity to test apps outside of a capital city.
This is an interesting part of our test as the results highlight how these apps can perform in regional areas that don't have mandatory reporting. Accuracy results are generally lower, most likely due to a smaller user base, and some apps don't even provide information outside of major cities.
With an accuracy score of 75%, PetrolSpy was the clear winner here and, quite frankly, your only option. Simples was next at 58%, followed by Fuel Map Australia with 42%, and finally MotorMouth, which was only accurate 8% of the time.
Even though we weren't able to test price accuracy in every state and territory across the country, we did conduct an ease of use assessment for apps that operate nationwide and others that are only in specific locations. Since MyFuel NT and FuelWatch aren't available as an app, we tested the mobile-optimised browser versions instead.
Due to this test not factoring in price accuracy for locations outside the east coast, we can't give the CHOICE tick of approval based on ease of use alone. However, we do think they're worth trying if you live in a state where we couldn't test price accuracy just so you can avoid apps that are a nightmare to navigate.
Our ease of use test assesses navigation within the app, data presentation, general performance, whether advertising is present and if registration is required.
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 biodiesel, AdBlue, or a charger for your electric vehicle? You many need to grab a specific app depending on your vehicle.
These app features can make it even easier to find cheap fuel.
- Show fuel near your location: Available in every app in our test, except WA Fuel Prices.
- View fuel prices on a map: Available in every app in our test, except Pumped Fuel.
- View nearby fuel prices in a list: Available in every app in our test, except Simples and Vroom Fuel Price Compare.
- Filter by retailer/brand
- Route view: This 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).
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.