Seven Ways To Spend Less Money On Petrol

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Seven Ways To Spend Less Money On Petrol
Image: iStock

Petrol is getting too expensive – and according to the experts, prices are only going to get worse. Instead of reverting to the horse-and-cart, here are a handful of simple bowser strategies that will help to keep petrol prices more manageable.

Over the past few months, petrol prices have shot up markedly in multiple Australian cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. Meanwhile, economists are predicting prices will remain high for some time to come.

Aussie Petrol Prices Are Up (And Staying Up)

Did you get a nasty surprise last time you went to fill up your petrol tank? Fuel prices across Australia are spiking, with prices in major cities reaching highs that have not been seen in many, many years. The bad news is, economists have predicted that prices will remain high throughout the school holidays, which start next week in NSW.

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Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate the damage without resorting to redirecting petrol pipelines or going on a Mad Max-style vehicular rampage. Here are a few tips.

Strike before the tank’s empty

Most drivers tend to fill up their car just before they run out of petrol: it’s one of those time-consuming things that we only want to do when it’s absolutely necessary. The downside to this approach is that you’re forced to pay whatever the asking price is on that particular day. Instead, try to get into the habit of intermittently topping up when prices are cheap – that way, you’ll never have to pay on expensive days and still have enough fuel to get around.

Sign up for a multicard

Certain credit card providers offer multicards that come with inbuilt petrol price discounts. You can even sign up to some of them for free; such as the Woolworths Everyday Rewards card. This currently offers a standard fuel offer of four cents off per litre.

Stick to the cheapest days – and do your research!

According to popular belief, Tuesdays and Sundays are the cheapest days to buy petrol, while Thursdays and Fridays are best avoided. However, this is not always the case and prices can fluctuate wildly from week-to-week. It therefore pays to do some actual research.

As part of its fuel price monitoring activities, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) runs a petrol price cycles page which is updated multiple times per week. It shows the cheapest and most expensive days to buy petrol in Australia’s capital cities. For example, prices in Brisbane are currently decreasing but they are likely to decrease further, so motorists are advised to delay buying petrol until later.

Use ethanol-based petrols

If your car was manufactured in the 1990s or later, there’s a pretty good chance that it will be E5 and E10 suitable. These are ethanol blend petrols that are cheaper than the regular unleaded variety. Naturally, you should check with the manufacturer if you’re unsure about your car’s suitability. Click here for a list of compatible vehicles from the Federal Chamber Of Automotive Industries.

Download a petrol-tracking app

A few years ago, the only way to find the best petrol price was to drive around looking at signs. These days, you can get your smartphone to do the hunting for you (just not while actively driving, natch). Google’s Petrol Price Tracker does exactly what it says on the tin: it lets you select your preferred petrol type and brand, and offers twice-daily price updates by postcode.

Another great app is MotorMouth, which is available for iOS and Android devices. In addition to the app, you can also sign up to receive free fuel price email alerts. You can find an in-depth guide to the best petrol apps here.

Go easy on the accelerator

This is more of a petrol-conservation tip, but it still results in paying less at the bowser. In short, don’t push the pedal to the metal unless it’s absolutely necessary. This consumes more petrol for no tangible benefit. The next time you’re stopped at a set of red lights, try slowly easing down on the accelerator when the lights turn green; you can save up to 20 per cent of your fuel this way.

The same principle applies to air conditioning (i.e. — don’t crank it), keeping your tyres at the right pressure, proper wheel alignment, regularly changing your air filter and keeping overall speeds down to reduce drag.

Keep your car in the garage!

Many of us have become far too dependent on our motor vehicles due to habit and/or convenience. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re feeling the pinch at the bowser, try using your legs more. No really. That 10-minute trip down the road for some milk really doesn’t require a car trip (if you have a bicycle, all the better). In addition to saving money on petrol, you’ll also be healthier and more environmentally friendly. Win, win!

If any readers have petrol tips of their own to share, fire away in the comments section below! And while you’re in an automotive mood, check out the latest video compilation from Dashcams Australia!


This story has been updated since its original publication.

Comments

  • Where I live, the petrol prices change perhaps once every 3-4 weeks, if that. It’s currently 147.7 just down the highway (and hasn’t budged for close to a month) and three or four towns closer to Melbourne it’s almost 10c cheaper, making it great way to top up while you’re heading down that way.

    We also shop at Aldi, so we don’t get discount vouchers, but with their prices, it mostly evens out. Besides, the places around town that do accept vouchers (the 4c or 8c vouchers at least) are usually 5-10c more expensive than the nearest United, so you’re actually paying more with your vouchers than you would be without, which is just stupid.

  • “Strike before the tank’s empty” – wouldn’t that mean that you are carrying more petrol, thus more weight, thus more fuel consumption? If you wait until the tank is near empty, on average, you’ll be carrying half a tank of fuel.

    • I’m not suggesting your car should be constantly completely full — just don’t let it get so low that you’re forced to top it up no matter what the prices are.

      • You get a lot of sediment from the fuel build up in the bottom of the tank. And if you don’t run it low very often the time you do it could clog you filter or run poorly with a big hit at once.

        • That might have been true once upon a time, but it is now a myth. Almost all cars have their fuel pumps installed inside the petrol tank. The pump sucks the fuel from the bottom of the tank whether the tank is full or empty. If there is any sediment, it would normally be removed by the filter regardless of how much fuel is in the tank.

          • Pull your tank put and drain it. Your pump May reach the bottom, but you’ll find it’s still a couple of mm off the bottom of the tank and sediment still exists. And besides it does not matter where your pump was it could be on the on the roof it comes down to where the pickup is.

      • If you wait until the tank is half full before topping up, on average your tank would be 3/4 full. If you wait until the tank is near empty before topping up, your tank would be 1/2 full on average. In the first case, you would be carrying 1/4 tank more full, over the course of your driving life of perhaps 50+ years, I’m thinking it would add up in extra fuel consumption.

        • Same area but a greater volume. As tanks are sealed these days, hence the shssh when you open them the argument is about how much vapour gets out when you fill up. Half full half a tank, twice as often vs a full tank when empty. No difference. Should fill up at night when the vapour presure is low, as we are being silly about it. I did read somewhere that having a full tank does use a small percentage extra fuel because of the weight, more than I expected but I can’t remember the figure. But I think the author is right on this one, fill up when it’s cheap, pretty simple.

          Alcohol fuel isn’t very economic, from memory it has 30% less energy than petrol, so at 10% of the mix, it has about 3% less energy. The price difference is rarely 3%, so you are generally worse off. However it’s a bit more complicated than that, alcohol raises the octane, and the 10% mix is usually about 3 points higher than std fuel. Most cars these days use an anti-knock sensor to know how much the timing can be advanced to start the ignition sooner and burn more of the fuel, and hence be more efficient. How much I have no idea.

  • Combination of tips 1 and 4 FTW. I really don’t get people who only fill up when the tank’s empty. My local petrol station’s cheapest day is Wednesday, so I always fill up that day every week, regardless of my fuel tank level.

    • I’d say the opposite.
      Supermarket vouchers are just getting you to fuel in overpriced servos.
      I usually fill at an independent which is constantly 20c+ below the Shell/BP mob

  • Ethanol isn’t all that. It’s a great sustainable fuel, but the amount of energy produced per qty of fuel is less than that of ‘normal’ petrol and the cost savings are chewed up by slightly higher fuel usage.

    • actually, there’s been several tests on this. the difference is on ethanol’s favor.
      Even do ethanol has less energy than 100% petrol, it still comes up on top in a $/km
      91 would be close, but ethanol increases your octane to 94.

  • If anyone in southern Adelaide needs diesel the BP on Daws rd is always about 5c cheaper than other BPs. And we all know diesel doesn’t appear to attract the usual weekly price changes of petrol. Since I have 2 tanks in my car I will often stop there and fill up with a decent amount as all the savings add up!

  • Using ethanol blends will NOT save you money, it will cost you money. Why is Gizmodo giving this poor and wrong advice? Simple chemistry determines that ethanol contains less energy per unit volume than petrol, roughly 3% less for E10 , so you use roughly 3% more to travel the same distance. I have never seen ethanol fuels selling in Melbourne at a price low enough to compensate for this, it generally works out 4%-6% dearer taking this into account.

      • He’s not wrong, ethanol based fuel has a lower thermal density, so it requires more fuel to travel the same distance. This has been scientificly tested, E10 is often to close to the price of normal petrol with like a 2-4c saving which in the end screws you.
        I use E10 in my car if it’s around 5% cheaper as that’s when you’re actually saving money due to the extra consumption. It’s the same with the additional mileage you can get from using 95-98, it’s pointless to get it for the mileage because the reduced consumption is lesser than the extra cost placed on your wallet. It’s simply physics driven economics.

  • The Entertainment Book allows you to purchase Gift cards from both woolworths and Coles at a 5% discount. the woolworths card can be used to purchase petrol.

    In addition, you can get 4c per litre for buying $30 at a time at woolworths supermarket (Shopper Docket as mentioned above.

    In addition, if you buy $5 at the woolworths petrol station, you get an additional 4c per litre off. Our household drinks lots of milk, and the petrol station milk is the same price as the Supermarket milk.

    This is the best deal I have come up with so long as you purchase your non aldi shopping at Woolworths supermarkets

  • Buy a car with a big enough range and top it up when it seems like it’s been low for a while.

    I fill up approximately every week (500km) or if I feel that it’s probably hit the absolute low and is about to jump but if I miss it by some chance I can normally make it through another 400 – 500km, I may not get it at the absolute cheapest price but it’s better than right at the top.

  • I thought that ethanol based petrols were only worth it if you have a saving of 3.5c/l or more over standard unleaded, due to the drop in fuel economy.

    I found with my old car (it was 18 years old at the time) I would save about $1-2 per fill up by using 95 instead of 91, purely from the better fuel economy.

  • You missed another tip:

    Always fill up your car in the mornings, as early as possible, especially in summer.

    You get more petrol because it’s denser at lower tempretures, so in the cold mornings your getting more petrol and less gasses/air, and on hot afternoons your getting a lot less actual person per “litre” the pump has measured. Those pumps are set to measure volume of fuel and not the actual quantity of liquid that comes out.

    • There is no gas in the line. The pump sucks from the bottom of the tank. As for the temperature change the tanks are insulated to maintain temperature.

    • I’m not sure about that. I had a friend who wrote code for bowsers, and he was asking me to check over a polynomial fit for fuel specific volume as a function of temperature. I think the idea was to compensate for volume changes due to temperature when giving the fuel delivered, i.e. pricing by moles rather than volume.

      Do a search for ‘fuel dispenser temperature compensation’ to read more about it.

      If you look closely at the bowser display, there’ll be a little notice that the volume measured is given in terms of its equivalent at some standard temperature. 15C seems to be one standard. I seem to recall seeing a 25C standard temperature, but I could be wrong there.

      Filling in the morning may have worked in the old days of electromechanical metering, when temperature compensation was harder to implement, but these days the computation is trivial with digital displays.

      So it doesn’t matter what time of day you fill up. The displayed price is what to go by.

      These are oil companies after all. They would’ve been on to temperature compensation long ago. In fact, I think it’s the fairest thing to do, for both the buyer and the seller.

      ( I also think the thermal mass of the underground tank and the insulating effect of the earth around it would cause temperature changes in the tank to be smaller than ambient air temps above ground.)

  • Personally I feel all energy fuels should be sold in Joules so the average consumer can easily compare the unit energy price of E5, E10, Premium, 98, Diesel, LPG, and CNG. It is the energy, not the volume that is correlated with “mileage”.

  • Both links in the ‘download an app’ go to the Google price tracker which is an iGoogle gadget. iGoogle was discontinued some time ago. Any other worthwhile iOS petrol price apps? Thanks.

    • Ethanol blends do NOT save you money, they contain less energy per litre than petrol, approximately 3%-4% less, so you use more to travel the same distance. So unless it’s more than 4% cheaper than regular petrol you are paying more in the end, NOT less.

  • Here’s some other tips that might help too:
    1) Check your tire pressure – Under inflated tyres lead to higher fuel consumption
    2) Don’t carry heaps of stuff in your car endlessly – High weight of the vehicle leads to, you guessed it, higher fuel consumption.

  • Think about installing LPG. There’s less energy per mole but LPG is so much cheaper than fuel. For my vehicle, I have the following rule of thumb (estimated from fuel mileage measurements): the petrol equivalent price of LPG is 10/9 the LPG price. So if LPG is at say 90cpl, petrol would have to be $1 per litre to give me the same distance per dollar. The only time LPG is ever close to the cost of petrol is in the outback where LPG can be expensive.

    Of course there is an initial outlay $1500 – $3000 I think. It took me two years to get my installation money back on cheaper fuel. There is also a higher maintenance cost, because there is another system to maintain, but this isn’t too bad.

  • Not much of a fan of the petrol apps – they don’t cover all the petrol stations – only certain ones. If you drive a Toyota & use their app you can get 4c per litre every 24 hours at Caltex. And sometimes they increase it to 8c per litre. This is in contrast to Coles & Woolworths who require a $30 purchase to get the discount.

  • If you have a Woolworths rewards card you can buy gift cards at 10% off and use them to fill up at Woolworths Caltex locations to get an extra saving.
    Myself am still wondering if it’s worth the runaround just for fuel. Of course you have to keep buying them in advance, and dealing with incomplete balances on cards etc. To some people it’s worth the saving.

  • If you have a Woolworths rewards card you can buy gift cards at 5% off and use them to fill up at Woolworths Caltex locations to get an extra saving.
    Myself am still wondering if it’s worth the runaround just for fuel. Of course you have to keep buying them in advance, and dealing with incomplete balances on cards etc. To some people it’s worth the saving.
    Only some WW Caltex will accept gift cards NOT egiftcards

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