Whether you're planning a road trip this summer, or just trying to squeeze the most out of your holiday budget, there are a few easy things you can do to save some money at the bowser.
If it's felt like the cost of fuel has been burning a bigger-than-usual hole in your pocket this past year, you'd be right.
In August 2018, petrol prices hit a four-year high in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, according to the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
While there's not a lot you can do about the increasing price of crude oil and a low exchange rate, there are a number of ways you can drive down your fuel bill.
Fuel-price comparison apps let you find the cheapest fuel based on your location and other search criteria.
Government apps and websites, including NSW FuelCheck, MyFuel NT, and FuelWatch (Western Australia), publish prices they receive directly from fuel retailers under mandatory reporting laws. FuelCheck and MyFuel are updated as prices change at the pump, while WA retailers report each day's prices the previous day. They are generally comprehensive and include the most up-to-date prices.
Queensland is trialing mandatory fuel price reporting until December 2020. The trial database is not available to the public, but third-party developers can tap into it, to provide up to date fuel prices. A list of apps with access to the database is available on the state government website.
Third-party apps, such as MotorMouth, GasBuddy, myNRMA, the RACQ, Fuel Map Australia and ServoTrack generally rely on a mix of data sources including users, retailers and private companies. Some list individual retailers or offer an average across a city or region, and the frequency with which they're updated varies, so it's worth checking a few to see what works for you.
Many apps include useful options like trip planning, favourites, price tracking, trends, and notifications, and they're all free and easy to use. We looked at a number of them in our "best apps for finding cheap fuel" test.
The best way to use a fuel price app is to plot your journey and look for the cheapest fuel on your route; some apps will do this for you.
But if you have to go out of your way, is it worth the extra fuel you'll use in the pursuit of cheaper fuel? Well, it's all in the maths.
There's no singular consistent day that petrol prices are cheaper. In the major cities, the best day to buy fuel is at a low point in a price cycle – which is a movement in the retail price from a low point to a high point to a subsequent low point.
Price cycles don't necessarily operate on a weekly basis. In 2018, cycle durations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide ranged from 14 to 54 days, so the cheapest days to buy fuel often change each week. Perth, however, is a bit different as it still has regular weekly price petrol cycles. The ACCC found that prices peak on Tuesdays then decrease to a low on Mondays.
You can find daily updates on petrol price cycles, including advice on whether it's a good day to buy fuel in your capital city, on the ACCC website. Alternatively, a number of apps in our fuel apps test also provide this information. However, apps and states/territories that rely on user-submitted data will be less accurate than those with access to government databases.
The way you drive and the condition of your car also has an impact on the amount of fuel you use. Here are a few tips to help.
- Avoid short trips: cars can use up to 20% more fuel when the engine is cold.
- Avoid over-revving if you're driving a manual. In an automatic, ease back slightly on the accelerator once the car gathers momentum. Avoid stop/start driving if you can.
- Don't speed: fuel consumption increases significantly over around 90km/h. At 110km/h your car can use up to 25% more fuel than it would at 90km/h.
- Unless your car is programmed to do so, it's not safe to turn off your engine at every red light. However, if you're parked, even for a short period, turning it off will save more fuel than you'll lose restarting the engine.
- Air conditioning can increase fuel use by up to 10%, but at speeds of more than 80km/h an open window will cost you more in aerodynamic drag.
- Service your vehicle regularly. Check your tyre pressure at least once a month.
- Use the recommended fuel type. If you use regular unleaded in a car designed for premium, expect slightly lower performance and fractionally higher consumption. Using premium unleaded in a car designed for regular may provide better fuel consumption in some newer vehicles, but it's unlikely to offset the extra cost of the fuel.