Saving money on car running costs is always important, but it’s become a higher priority for more people as experts warn of widespread job losses.
With that in mind we’ve assembled five simple tips to help save you money on motoring.
Some of these may be obvious to many motorists, but we reckon it’s worth a recap.
1. When and where to buy petrol
Most states in Australia have access to petrol price apps that show the best prices in your area and which days are the cheapest. If you’ve haven’t already downloaded them, now’s the time.
While Motormouth is national (and has recently been updated) it has long standing links to the petroleum industry. Its parent company Informed Sources insists it is independent of the petroleum industry and has been providing market information to fuel retailers since 1987. It says it has prices for 50 to 60 per cent of all petrol stations nationally at any one time.
NSW has arguably the best and most accurate app – NSW Fuel Check – as it is compulsory for petrol retailers to participate and is funded and run by the government, whereas other states and territories rely on third party apps, some of which use crowd-sourced data.
Other generic apps include Fuel View, Gas Buddy, Petrol Spy Australia and Fuel Map Australia.
In most cases you can set your preference for the type of fuel you need and the area you’re in. Some apps also give alerts when there are price rises or dips.
As many of us will be driving less, and as the price of oil tanks globally due to weakening demand, we should see a sustained period of low petrol prices. We’ve recently seen price differences of up to 40 cents per litre just kilometres apart, which adds up to more than $16 per tank on the average car.
Also, one more tip. E10 or ethanol blended unleaded fuel seems cheap at the bowser but it burns faster, so it can end up costing you more. You're better off with regular unleaded – or premium 95 unleaded if it's not prohibitively expensive.
2. Check your tyre pressures
Apologies if this is an obvious suggestion, but it is easy to forget. Running the correct tyre pressure can help you eke out better fuel efficiency from your car. Best of all, the air is free.
Under-inflated tyres create more friction versus ones that have the correct air pressure.
Be sure to not over-inflate them either (for reasons of safety and uneven tyre wear). Most modern cars will have a tyre placard inside either of the front door openings.
Be sure to check whether the tyre pressure device you’re using measures in KPI or PSI. It doesn’t matter which is which (one is imperial versus metric) just be sure to match the relevant numbers on your tyre placard.
For example, most passenger car tyres tend to run about 32 psi of air pressure; I usually pump them up to 34 psi so I don’t need to check them as often. Any higher than this could cause uneven wear. Any lower than this can burn extra fuel.
3. Empty your car of junk
If you’re carrying a boot full of stuff ready for the tip or the markets (or a holiday), either take it to the tip or take it out of the car.
Generally speaking, anything that weighs 20kg or more can start to impact fuel efficiency, especially around town. So if you’ve got anything that’s heavier than 20kg in the car – and it’s non-essential – it could be time to remove it.
It’s one of the reasons car makers have been shifting to skinny space-saver spare wheels and tyres.
Full size spare tyres are our preference given Australia’s vast distances and limited ability to get replacement rubber in regional areas, but space savers have been introduced on city hatchbacks and small SUVs to save weight.
Whatever you do, please keep your spare tyre – whatever size it is – in the car. But if it’s good enough for car companies to shed 20kg or more of unnecessary weight, we reckon it’s good advice for the rest of us.
While we're here, don't get too worked up about roof racks and driving with your windows up or down. Roof racks and open windows only really impact fuel economy at freeway speeds and over long distances.
In fact, switching off the air-conditioning (especially on mild days) and driving with windows down at suburban speeds might save a bit of fuel.
4. A cheap service could save you money in the long run
Not everyone can afford to take their car in for a routine service, but a quick oil and filter change ($100 to $150 if you shop around at some of the service chains or small independent operators, but closer to $200 or more inside a car dealer network) can make the engine run more efficiently and prevent unnecessary wear which could lead to costly repairs down the road.
A happy engine with fresh oil and a clean air filter and oil filter will use less fuel.
5. Don’t drive like an idiot
This should be year-round advice for all of us, but now that much of the traffic has thinned out there are fewer excuses to be in a hurry.
The thirstiest part of driving is moving from rest (stop signs, lights, slow-moving traffic) so the smoother you are at leaving a set of lights, the better chance you have of trimming your fuel budget.
Testing has shown the most efficient vehicle speed is usually between 60kmh and 80kmh but, of course, you can only travel at these speeds when limits allow.
Also, don’t drive significantly under the speed limit (for example, doing 80kmh in a 100kmh zone) as that will cost you money in the form of a fine, especially if you are obstructing traffic.
Good luck, and let us know in the comments below if you have any tips to save money on motoring – without having to buy a new car.