A guide to saving money on petrol and reducing the amount of money spent on fuel.
Where I live in regional NSW, driving a car has become a necessity of modern life. There is no public transport readily available and with the price of fuel steadily rising towards $1.80 a litre, monitoring petrol prices and petrol saving is critical to maintain a healthy household budget.
The key thing we need to look at with saving petrol and saving money on petrol, is ‘How can we make a difference?’ and start to minimise our fuel consumption.
Reducing our petrol usage to save money is probably one of the smartest things we can do. Here is how you can save money on petrol.
Research which car is going to save you the most petrol
Let’s start at the start; if you buy a car that’s fuel efficient in the first place, you’re going to use less fuel no matter what you do. It doesn’t have to be a Matchbox car, in fact as the supply of fossil fuels dwindles, more and more car manufacturers are producing vehicles that are designed to use minimal fuel. Buying a car that suits your purpose is going to save you money in the long run and spending a little extra now to get a more recent model will pay off later.
If you live in the city and hardly leave town, a hatchback copes best with the stop/start CBD traffic. However, if you frequently drive at high speeds for long periods, the same hatchback will chew through the fuel like nobody’s business and a sedan or 4WD might be better for you. Do your research; you’ll be thankful you did.
Slow down, quit hooning if you want to save on petrol
The worst way to consume lots of petrol, is by having a lead foot. It is suggested that you slow down, avoid fast acceleration and remember that even if you drive faster to get from a to b, it still does not get you there quicker, as proven by Wheels Magazine many times over (sorry, I can’t find the exact article!).
Every kilometre per hour faster that you drive forces your car’s engine to work a little bit harder, thus using more petrol. Plus, unless you happen to be driving a sports car designed to travel at super-high speeds, chances are your vehicle is experiencing aerodynamic lag, causing increased petrol consumption as the motor struggles to push your little box on wheels through the air in front of it. Stick to the speed limit and your car is using only as much fuel as it needs to. You also avoid that most unhappy of expenses: the speeding fine.
Fill up with petrol when its cold
Let me take you back to high school chemistry. Liquids expand when heated and contract when cooled. What that means is, if you buy 1L of petrol when it’s hot, the fuel has most likely expanded a bit and as soon as it cools down, it will contract again to say, 0.9L. Basically, if you buy warm petrol, it’s like a soft drink that’s been watered down. Fill up at night or on cooler days to get your money’s worth.
Plan where you will fill up with petrol and how you travel to work
It is said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail and I like to ascribe this little mantra to every aspect of life… yes, even saving money on petrol. It makes no sense whatsoever to drive to the supermarket then take your groceries home and go back to the same side of town to run errands. Plan every trip so that you travel the least distance possible and never have to double back.
Also, as the cost of using toll roads in the large capital cities cost in excess of the petrol cost to take the slightly longer route, unless its bumper to bumper traffic, avoid the toll roads where possible. This also saves on emergency fill-ups at the pump on the M4 which cost far more than your local servo. Weaving and winding through back streets might seem frustrating, but perhaps it’s a more direct route to work (and honestly, could anything be more frustrating than Parramatta Road at night for all you Sydney siders?).
Planning out your trips, for the most direct route, for the place where you can fill up cheaply, is essential to saving money. I wouldn’t go out of my way to drive to the cheapest petrol station (unless it worked out much cheaper, when extra driving was taken into account) but I’d certainly keep an ear out to petrol reports on the radio and check out today’s cheapest prices before I hit the road, just in case there was a good deal in my area.
Fuel Watch and Motor Mouth Petrol Watch
Websites such as Fuel Watch and Motor Mouth can help you understand ways to save money on petrol. These websites give an indicator of prices around your local areas and other localities in Australia. These websites not only make it easier to find cheaper fuel, they are soon to be government initiatives so that we as Australians can locate fuel costs not only for the current day, but the cost of petrol for the next few days.
Look to drive your car smoothly and avoid excess engine usage
Another way you can reduce your petrol usage by the way you drive and I don’t mean “not at all”. Every rev of the engine uses more petrol so the aim is to reduce the need for these energy expenditures. If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle, you’ll already know a lot of the principles.
When sitting in traffic put your manual car in neutral to avoid unnecessary revving. When approaching a red light, stop accelerating as soon as you see it. Allow the vehicle’s momentum to bring you up to the stop line and start braking early but gently. Of course, if you have 4 angry motorists behind you and it’s peak hour, this is not always feasible but in quiet times, it’s a good way to cut back on petrol consumption. You could even take it one step further and where applicable, roll down hills without accelerating.
Extra tips to help you save money on petrol
Sometimes it’s best to implement a number of strategies to save money on petrol. Every little bit counts and if you manage to form good habits right away, over the years it will equate to a huge amount of money saved.
Ensure your tyre pressure is correct
A deflated tyre, even by a couple of PSI can amount to a 5% loss in fuel and severe safety under-performance by your car. Check your tyres fortnightly to ensure maximum PSI is always in effect.
Lighten your cars weight by removing any unnecessary items
Do you really need to be carting 10 KGs of textbooks with you everywhere you go? Excess weight is extra energy required to move it, so put the car on a diet and save on fuel. Note from editor; I once bought a set of weights to get fit, a good 100KG of weights and drove around with them in my hatchback for 2 months. Not clever!
Use cruise control
When doing long trips, set the control function – it stops you unnecessarily accelerating and using petrol that is effectively useless on the open road. This can save around 5% of your petrol in just 30mins of cruising.
Get to a higher gear quicker
Lastly, get to a higher gear in manual cars as quick as possible. This reduces engine use and petrol consumption by moving the car in a more economical gear. Bit hard to stay at 90KM/h in Sydney though!
Reduce your air conditioning, it uses up petrol
It probably doesn’t occur to you when you switch it on (it certainly didn’t dawn on me!) but that air conditioner in your car is using petrol. In fact, all of the accessories are, but none are guzzling the juice like that little cooling system. Take your jacket off and roll the windows down if you’re hot in the car and save the air con for those stinking hot days. Remember, twenty-five years ago no-one had air conditioning in their cars and somehow, we all got by. Put the windows down. Leave the air conditioning off. This does not make a HUGE difference but can help save between 4-5% of petrol in your tank.
Service your car regularly to save on petrol
A friend of mine thought it was costing her a lot to run her little hatchback but everyone was complaining about the rising costs of fuel, so she shrugged it off. Imagine her surprise when she finally took it to a mechanic who discovered the fuel pipe was twisted and petrol was actually leaking out of her car!
It’s another one of those paradoxical “spend money to save money” things, but it’s the truth, sorry. You need to get your ride serviced… regularly. If something’s not quite right with your pride and joy, get her looked at. It might well be she’s only draining your wallet because something’s draining her.
Slightly flat tyres can cost you up to 6% extra on your petrol bill throughout a year. The same is true of stressed engines, or cars running at a reduced capacity. Pull out your user manual and check out your maintenance schedule. Talk to your mechanic about how best to maintain your car and make sure you keep a good eye on oil changes and fluid levels. It’s a simple thing, and takes basically no time, yet the potential savings are significant.
Consider carpooling to reduce petrol
Cars are convenient, but I seem to have forgotten that convenience isn’t everything. I’ve been turning up to parties or dinners where every single one of us has driven, with four empty car seats. And work commuting is a similar issue. Save money by organising a car pool, maybe only once or twice a week to begin with. Swap driver shifts with your mates for your summer partying season so everyone can be safe, and frugal.
Walk instead, it will save you money
Instead of jumping in the car every time we head to the shops, why not walk instead? If you live reasonably close to your workplace, why not get up half an hour earlier and walk in? You’ll get all your recommended exercise (for free) and save on huge amounts of petrol. Frugality is about changing our unconscious routines, and all those small trips in the car can add up to some significant savings.
Use credit card gift rewards to buy petrol
If you have rewards with your credit card, think about using it for petrol gift cards. Rewards are fun to use for new gadgets and appliances, but using them for petrol is a great way to add some space into your budget and really make your credit card rewards work for you.
Best way to save money on petrol?
Now for the final answer on how to save money on petrol, this answer has been proven by Wheels Magazine, tested by Alex Wilson (founder of Savings Guide) and it resulted in cutting his fuel bill down by around 55%.
What is it you ask? Simple.
Do not travel in peak hours on the road. Avoid peak hour. Peak hour and grid lock traffic can result in using 1/4 of your tank for each hour you spend in bumper to bumper traffic.
So, how do you avoid peak hour traffic? Try leaving for work an hour earlier each day, car pool as much as you can and also try and leave work a little bit later so you can get all your work done, catch up on your emails and avoid the rush.