The Battle To Buy Cheap Petrol

The Battle To Buy Cheap Petrol

Tactics to get petrol at the cheapest possible price can occupy a lot of time for the budget-minded consumer. While there are resources out there that can help, there are few long-term certainties.

Picture by Michael Spencer

As part of its fuel price monitoring activities, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission runs a weekly update on which day of the week fuel is cheapest in major capital cities. The fact that it’s updated every seven days reflects the fact that longstanding ideas about the days when petrol is cheapest aren’t necessarily accurate. If you’ve been sticking to the same day (“cheap Tuesday”, perhaps) for years in the belief that it’s cheaper, you’re likely to have been wrong at least some of the time. On this week’s update, Monday is the cheapest day in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, while Perth’s best day is Wednesday.

If you want more specific pricing information, Google offers a petrol-price tracking gadget which you can install on an iGoogle home page to search for the nearest cheap petrol and which updates petrol prices in many major locations twice a day. Motormouth, which provides that data, also offers an email update service. However, this isn’t useful if you’re not in the coverage areas,

The retail petrol market has been entirely transformed over the last decade by the emergence of supermarket chains as major players, offering discounts to customers who have spent a certain amount in those supermarkets. Those strategies often make sense, and indeed petrol discounts often represent better value than alternative strategies such as accumulating frequent flyer points instead.

However, there’s a limit to how far those strategies can go. The ACCC has made it clear that major discounts (such as 40 cents off a litre, offered last year by a number of supermarkets) will only be tolerated as occasional loss-leader specials, not as a regular tactic.

A common consumer complaint is that a huge proportion of the cost of petrol comes from government taxes on fuel or gargantuan price gouging by oil companies. Neither is entirely accurate. In an assessment of petrol costs last year, the ACCC concluded that the three main factors which influence petrol prices are the raw cost of refined petroleum, Australia-US exchange rates and the weekly pricing cycle. By the ACCC’s reckoning, Australia has the fourth-cheapest petrol in the OECD, and 90% of the overall price is comprised of raw fuel costs and taxes.

That said, other factors can come into play. The ACCC warned this week that supplies of ethanol-enhanced petrol will be affected because of the Queensland floods, which have had a major impact on the production of ethanol crops. That won’t necessarily lead to price rises, but it could well lead to queues for ethanol-blended petrol.

What tactics do you use to get the best petrol price? Fuel up the comments with your ideas.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • Ride a pushbike, cheap petrol that way.

    In all seriousness, i dont know how with the cost of oil & our exchange rate at parity we are still paying up to $1.40 a litre for petrol. We were paying similar prices back when oil was a similar price and our dollar was at $0.60 US.

  • “On this week’s update, Monday is the cheapest day in … Adelaide,” Well that for a Start is WRONG! ~$1.34 monday, ~$1.22 Wednesday this week. Perhaps last week it was?

    Since the Cheapest Day is usually next to the most expensive day with a change sometimes over 12cents there is little to help this “discount cycle” with a 4cents off voucher. The Discount cycle is a load of rubbish and so is the instant “cash in” to the US dollar changes.

    The cheapest day of the week I think it changing between Petrol Brands, so those that have the supermarket vouchers need to watch their brand, rather then what is the cheapest. Coles and Woolworth stations that are close to each other, tend to match each others price.

    I’ve found that shopping at Coles with a Source Master card & Flybuys gives the optimal return if sticking with a Brand with discount. (4c/8c)Supermarket + 4c (credit card voucher) + (optional if >50 l) 2c and buy $2 item (makes it half price) + 4 flybuys points per $5 at coles and 3 flybuys points per $5 at Coles express. (The Flybuys points equates to a $20 voucher when you spend ~$3.6 k with the flybuys card which can be easily achieved with fuel, food and misc items throughout a year.)

    • Wait, what??

      You are doing all that, which includes paying over the odds to get a $2 thingy you don’t need at a service station, and spend ~$3.8k to get a $20 gift voucher?

      It is not even worth your time to hand over your fly-byes card each purchase for the year to get a single $20 voucher!

      • $1.23 this morning and $1.41 this evening, same stations Woolworths and Coles on my daily drive to from work.

        Most Credit Cards with reward schemes require you to buy more to get an equivalent return and make you pay a fee for the privilege.

        An example bad value save fuel card is the BP citibank card that gives you 5% off your purchase at BP but costs ~$65 a year for the card. Lucky if your fuel savings cover your credit card fee.

        And your forgetting the $4 off fuel each time you fill the tank. Which is about a $100 saving in a year.

        The $2 item you say you don’t need, I said was optional. If that item is worth it at half the price, then get it, if not forget it.

  • “f you want more specific pricing information, Google offers a petrol-price tracking gadget”

    I’ve tried it and get: “No results returned. Please try another location.”

    perhaps “Google’s new iGoogle Petrol Price Tracker” launched in 2008 isn’t working anymore.

  • FYI Being the City may not ensure the best price for fuel.

    E.g. Last Week I took a Trip to Victor Harbor from Adelaide ~70KM City Price was ~$1.32, Victor Harbor was ~$1.24.

    Explain that “Discount cycle”?

    • Country areas don’t have a discount cycle…
      Try diving up through Pt Wakefield… they consistently seem to have cheap fuel. Quite often it’ll be cheaper there than it has been all week in the city!

  • I constantly find it amusing that consumers will moan over $1.20-$1.30 per litre petrol prices, yet walk out of the shop having paid $2.50-$3.00 for a 600ml bottle of water (equivilent of $4.15 – $5 per litre!).

  • I don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of the country, but works brilliantly for me to identify where its cheapest to fill up whilst taking only a minor detour- quite often in an area of 3 servos within a few k’s of each other, 1 will be ridiculously overpriced.

    And I can also check whether it’ll be cheaper the next day as well- I can then figure out whether I can survive another day or need to fill up asap.

    I don’t understand why you lot didn’t want a centralised fuel price monitoring website.

    • j living in WA and having used fuelwatch for a number of years I never understood why people in other states rubbished the idea when the federal government brought it up either. Sure fuelwatch doesn’t result in lower fuel prices, it’s not meant to, but by using it I know that I’m never paying more than I have to for petrol. I always fuel up on the cheapest day of the week (by checking the prices for the next day to see if they’ve gone up) and then by buying fuel at the cheapest station on my way home.

      BTW: if you own an android phone there is a free fuelwatch app that will tell you what price the petrol stations near you are selling fuel for and what price they will be selling it for tomorrow (after 2.30pm).

  • Oh, how this is a perfect example of Game Theory in the real world.

    It’s in the oil companies best interest to make people think Tuesday is the cheapest day, whilst making it expensive. Seeing as though amongst some people it’s a ritual to fill up on a Tuesday (and many can’t afford to wait another day) then they have to.

    It is no longer a weekly discounting cycle, in my experience, but more of a 10-14 day discounting cycle. Many people have to fill up once a week, so they can’t get discounted fuel all the time.

  • Here in WA we enjoy fuelwatch (you know that thing the East coast rejected lol) which tells us where the cheapest petrol in the city is and what the price is going to be the nest day too so we know whether to buy now or wait.

  • Yeah, smart thinking from some of us over here in the east who still complain about the price of fuel but did not want the fuel watch scheme. I was not one of them.

    I have been toying with the idea for some time of setting up a website with a fuel watch page for my local area with the ability to accept data input from a registered visitor, the idea being that anyone in the area can login and record the price of fuel on any given day, the service station and the time it was observed in an interactive table.

    Flyers would be distributed in the area and community notices published in media willing to publish for free as well as notices posted on various community notice boards in shopping centres and malls in the area.

    One reader here mentioned the equivalent price of a bottle of water and questioned why one would be upset paying $1.20 – $1.30 or more per litre of fuel compared to something like $4 – $5 per litre for the water.

    It is not the unit price, it is the total outlay over a period of time that is the issue. How many of us are going to buy 50-100 litres of water a week? With fuel most of us have to.

    For most of us after paying our Rent/Mortgage and Groceries and maybe a car payment, fuel is the next largest outlay in our budget and there are far fewer saving opportunities with fuel compared to grocery shopping and also the prices of groceries tend to stay static much more than fuel.

    Also, it is far easier to “special” shop with groceries than it is with fuel as it is not difficult to store extra groceries. We can hardly buy two tanks of fuel at once can we?

    If anyone has seen this done elsewhere or has any thoughts on it I would be very interested.

  • Australia is getting shafted by these fuel prices. If we compare the price of fuel now to what it was a few years ago when crude oil was $140 USD a barrel, the Aussie dollar was around 95 US cents, which mean crude oil would have cost around $146 Aussie dollars. Now crude oil is around $96 USD per barrel and the Aussie dollar is around $1.05 USD, so crude oil would cost around $92 Aussie dollars per barrel. That is 60% less than it was when crude oil was $140 per barrel (Fuel companies were reporting record earnings at this time too mind you), yet we are paying the same at the pump, if not more. From what I can work out we should be paying around 95 cents per litre for fuel. SO WE ARE GETTING SHAFTED. If anyone has an explanation and can prove me wrong I’d love to hear it coz I’m gettin real pissed off with fuel prices, and you should be too.

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