Fuel information

Fuel saving tips

The more fuel your car uses, the more it impacts on the environment. Following these tips will reduce your fuel costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

1. Accelerate gently

Avoid high revs. Automatic transmissions will shift up more quickly and smoothly if you ease back slightly on the accelerator once the car is moving. In a manual car, you should change up through the gears as soon as the car is comfortable with the next higher gear.

2. Flow smoothly with the traffic

Pay attention to what the traffic ahead is doing so you can avoid unnecessary acceleration and braking. Driving further from the car in front means you can see what is happening and you don't have to brake every time they do. As well as saving fuel this is a much safer way to drive.

3. Lower speeds use less fuel

Speeding is not only dangerous, it also uses more fuel. If it’s safe to do so, cruising slightly below the speed limit will save you fuel. Travelling at 100km/h instead of 110km/h can reduce fuel consumption significantly.

4. Turn off your car while you wait

Turn off your engine when you’re waiting in a parked car. By having the engine switched off, even for a short period, you will save more fuel than is lost in restarting the engine. The increased wear and tear from this is negligible. Modern cars don’t need to be 'warmed up', it just wastes fuel.

5. Avoid congestion or drive less

The best way to reduce fuel consumption is to drive less. Consider combining trips, car pooling or using other modes of transport. Maybe replacing short trips with walking or cycling. Stop-start driving is very fuel inefficient, so plan your travel to avoid driving in congested traffic.

6. Maintain your car

If your car is running correctly, it will use less fuel. Have it serviced according to the owner’s manual and regularly check oil and other fluid levels. Watch out for any changes in the way it drives as it might mean there’s a problem that needs fixing. Keep an eye on the trip computer as increasing fuel consumption can also be a sign of a problem.

7. Keep tyres properly inflated

Inflate your vehicle's tyres to the higher end of the manufacturer's recommended pressure range and make sure your wheels are properly aligned. Looking after your tyres will not only reduce your fuel consumption, it will also extend tyre life and improve handling.

8. Reduce wind resistance

Additional parts on the outside of a car, or even having the window open when travelling at higher speeds, increases wind resistance and fuel consumption. Remove roof racks and other attachments when they are not being used.

9. Remove unnecessary weight

Remove unnecessary items from the boot. The more weight a vehicle carries, the more fuel it uses, particularly in urban driving.

10. Be smart with your air-con

Nobody wants to swelter in their car but using the air-con system does make the engine use more fuel because it has to drive a big compressor. If your car has a climate control system, just setting the system a couple of degrees higher means the compressor won’t kick in as often. If your car has a more basic air-con system, switching it off when you don’t need it will save fuel.

Petrol

What is the best petrol for my car?

There are many types of petrol available including regular, premium grades, ethanol blends and Opal fuel.

Petrol is rated using the Research Octane Number or RON scale, a measurement of how susceptible a fuel is to self-igniting in an engine. Normally, the fuel/air mixture is ignited by the spark plug and a controlled flame spreads through the combustion chamber. If the fuel ignites before the spark plug fires then ‘knocking’ occurs. ‘Knocking’ can cause poor running and even catastrophic engine damage. Higher RON fuels, such as premium unleaded, are more resistant to ‘knock’. However, using premium unleaded in a car that is not designed for higher-octane petrol will not necessarily result in improved performance and could be a waste of money.

All petrol sold in Australia must meet the minimum standard set out in the National Fuel Quality Standards.

Regular unleaded petrol

Regular unleaded petrol is the most popular fuel for passenger cars. It was introduced to reduce environmental and health issues associated with leaded fuel and so that new vehicles could use a catalytic converter to reduce exhaust emissions.

RON is typically 91 to 92.

Premium unleaded petrol (PULP)

An increasing number of vehicles are recommended for use with premium unleaded petrol. Usually a label on the fuel filler cap or owner's manual will indicate what octane rating of fuel the vehicle requires. It is important to use premium unleaded if the vehicle manufacturer specifies it.

Cars requiring premium unleaded petrol typically include:
• High-performance cars
• Many European cars
• Some pre-1986 vehicles designed to use high-octane leaded fuel may benefit from using premium unleaded.

RON is usually 95 to 96. There are some fuels that are 98 or higher and are marketed as having various detergents that claim to provide cleansing benefits to vehicle engines.

e10

e10  is a blended fuel consisting of 10% ethanol and 90% regular unleaded petrol. See section below on petrol with ethanol. 

Opal fuel

Opal fuel is available in outback Australia as a substitute for regular unleaded petrol. Opal fuel has a different composition to regular unleaded petrol and is designed to reduce petrol sniffing problems.

Vehicles designed to run on regular 91 RON unleaded petrol may use Opal, which meets the fuel standard requirements of regular unleaded. Important - if your vehicle is designed to run on premium unleaded, do not use Opal.

Lead replacement petrol (LRP)

Some pre-1986 cars required leaded petrol to protect the engine from wear in the valve seats. You can check if your pre-1986 vehicle can run on unleaded or premium petrol here. Leaded petrol was phased out nationally in 2002 and Lead Replacement Petrol (LRP) became available. LRP was later phased out in 2004 as less cars required it.

What are the alternatives to filling with LRP?
• if your vehicle cannot run on unleaded fuel, you can use premium unleaded petrol (PULP) and a lead substitute (Anti-Valve Seat Recession (VSR) additive). The increased octane number of the premium fuel will cover problems with knocking and the lead substitute will prevent any valve seat recession.
• recondition the engine head so that the car can run on unleaded petrol may be possible.

Diesel

What are some of the issues with diesel?

Diesel-powered cars are now commonplace in Australia as motorists realise the fuel consumption and driveability benefits of modern diesel engines.

All diesel sold in Australia must meet the minimum standard set out in the National Fuel Quality Standards

High flow pumps

Drivers with diesel vehicles should be aware of high flow diesel pumps designed for trucks. Care should be taken when using these pumps as there are high chances of excessive foaming and splashback when filling. High flow pumps are often found in a separate truck area of a service station or are labelled to warn users.

Diesel particulate filters (DPF)

To meet strict emission standards, many modern diesel engines are fitted with a diesel particulate filter in the exhaust system. If the car is only used for short trips and the DPF is not allowed to heat up properly it may become blocked and require replacement which is usually expensive. RACV recommends owners take their vehicle on a longer drive (e.g. freeway) every month so the DPF is properly heated and can clean itself.

Premium diesel

Many fuel retailers offer a premium diesel fuel. These fuels are usually marketed as containing additives that can improve efficiency and clean the engine, as well as having anti-corrosion agents. Premium diesel often contains anti-foaming agents which give a cleaner and faster fill and avoid some of the problems associated with unclean pumps. Premium diesel is normally 1-2 cents more per litre than regular diesel, however most retailers with premium diesel do not sell regular diesel.

Biodiesel

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel produced from plant or animal fats and oils, it is normally blended with regular diesel for use in vehicles. There is a limit of 5% biodiesel allowed in regular diesel fuel and there are no labelling requirements for blends up to this limit. All biodiesel must meet the National Fuel Quality Standards.

According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), Australian vehicle manufacturers and importers do not warrant the use of biodiesel blends greater than 5% without specific permission from the manufacturer.

LPG

What is LPG?

LPG or Autogas is one of the most commonly used alternative fuels for vehicles and Victorian motorists are the biggest users of LPG in Australia.

Automotive LPG is mainly a mixture of propane and butane in varying amounts. The varying nature of LPG can slightly influence the exhaust emissions and fuel consumption of a vehicle.

The two major sources of LPG are from natural gas processing and petroleum refining. As its name suggests, it is stored as a liquid under pressure but becomes a gas in open air. Although LPG has a higher octane rating than regular unleaded petrol, it has a lower energy density, which results in a fuel consumption that is usually about 30% greater per kilometre.

All LPG sold in Australia must meet the minimum standard set out in the National Fuel Quality Standards.

Dual-fuel LPG vehicles

Dual-fuel vehicles have a petrol fuel system and an LPG system. These systems give drivers the option of running on petrol or LPG. This means that the vehicle often has a longer range and can still be used in areas with poor LPG coverage.

Many vehicles can be converted to use LPG but this work, along with servicing, must be carried out by an individual or business that is registered with the Automotive Alternative Fuels Registration Board (AAFRB). This is important to ensure that the work is performed correctly and that there is no compromise in vehicle safety or emissions. It is also a safety requirement that LPG cylinders be inspected and pressure-tested every 10 years.

Dedicated LPG vehicles

A dedicated LPG vehicle can only run on LPG. These vehicles are typically designed and built to run on LPG by the vehicle manufacturer rather than being an aftermarket conversion. There are dedicated LPG versions of both the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore.

Is it worth converting your car to LPG?

Because LPG generally increases fuel consumption by up to 30%, the cost effectiveness of an LPG conversion is based on LPG being cheaper than unleaded petrol.  

Motorists should consider the cost of an LPG conversion and the amount of time it will take to pay off the conversion. The further you travel each year, the faster a conversion will be paid off and the greater the potential savings.

Due to the added complexity of LPG systems, servicing costs can be higher in some cases and this should also be considered when calculating the potential savings.

RACV advises motorists to do their own calculations before purchasing an LPG vehicle.

Petrol with ethanol

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is an alcohol produced from plants such as sugar cane, corn and wheat; it is considered a renewable energy source. It is usually blended with unleaded petrol for use in cars.

There are national fuel quality standards for e85 and labelling requirements for ethanol blend fuel. 

e10

e10 is the most commonly available ethanol blend petrol, consisting of 10% ethanol and 90% regular unleaded petrol. The majority of petrol cars produced since 1986 are able to use e10 fuel. To see if your vehicle is compatible with e10 you should check owner’s manual or the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries website.

Ethanol has a lower energy content than petrol so you need more fuel to travel the same distance. RACV found that a vehicle running e10 would use around 3.4% more fuel.

Therefore, for e10 to be a cost-effective fuel it must be at least 3.4% cheaper than regular unleaded petrol. For example, if normal petrol were 150 cents per litre, e10 must be around 5 cents less to be considered cost effective.

e10 as a substitute for premium unleaded petrol

Some motorists use e10 as a substitute for premium unleaded petrol.  e10 usually has a Research Octane Number (RON) of around  94, which is less than the minimum 95 RON for PULP.

Some vehicle manufacturers recommend that their vehicles are operated on 95 RON fuel as a minimum. Motorists should not substitute the premium petrol that their vehicle requires for e10 fuel, which may have a lower RON.

If you are considering using e10 instead of premium petrol, check with your vehicle manufacturer if e10 is a suitable for your vehicle.

Ethanol mandates

In New South Wales, a certain percentage of all petrol sold must be ethanol. This mandate means that many service stations in NSW do not have regular unleaded petrol. Victorians travelling through NSW should be aware of this mandate and may have to use premium unleaded if their vehicle is not suitable for e10.

RACV does not support the introduction of an ethanol mandate in Victoria.

e85

e85 is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% petrol and is only suitable for "flex-fuel" cars which have the ability to sense how much ethanol is in the fuel.

Currently there are only a few flex-fuel vehicles on the Australian market that are able to operate on e85 fuel. These vehicles include some Saab, Dodge and Chrysler models, as well as some versions of the Holden Commodore and Captiva. Check whether your vehicle is e85 compatible with your vehicle manufacturer.

Some e85 blends are marketed differently and have varying amounts of ethanol from around 70% to 85%. The mixture ratio is varied throughout the year to ensure engines operating on e85 are able to cold start properly in the winter months.

Due to the reduced energy content of ethanol, a vehicle operating on e85 will use much more fuel than one using petrol.

Ethanol and water

When ethanol is blended with petrol there are no significant chemical reactions between the ethanol and the petrol and the ethanol simply mixes into the petrol. Over time the two fluids can separate and this separation is exaggerated when there is water present.

Ethanol absorbs water and when an ethanol blended fuel is put into a fuel tank, it will absorb any condensation or moisture in that container. This is not normally a problem if there isn’t much water or the fuel is used within a reasonable period of time, however if it is left to sit for a while the water and ethanol will settle to the bottom of the tank or container. This can lead to difficulty in starting an engine as the fuel in the tank is drawn from the bottom.

For this reason, ethanol blend fuels are not recommend for marine use and they shouldn’t be stored in containers for too long. Motorists should be wary of putting ethanol in an infrequently used car like a classic car.

Ethanol in classic cars

See RACV's fact sheet answering questions relating to the use of ethanol in classic cars.

Refuelling tips

Special precautions should always be taken when refueling, some of these include:

  • Switch off your engine
  • Don't smoke
  • Don't re-enter your car mid way through fuelling
  • Discharge static electricity before filling up, by touching the door or metal on the vehicle
  • Don't jam the fuelling trigger

When filling a container:

  • Use only containers that meet the Australian Standard
  • Always place the container firmly on the ground
  • Keep the nozzle in steady contact with the container during filling
  • Fill the container slowly to reduce the likelyhood of static, spillage or splatter
  • Never fill a container whilst it is suspended above the ground, in a vehicle or held in the air
  • Discharge any static electricity first by touching the dispenser and the container, before pumping

More information is available in the "Australian Transport Safety Bureau - Static ! A drivers guide to fires caused by static electricity"

Fuel contamination

Issues with contaminated fuel are uncommon, however repairing the damage from low-quality fuel can be expensive. 

You can protect yourself by keeping receipts showing where and when you purchased fuel, as well as keeping records. It can also be useful to fill up at the same service station so there is no doubt about which fuel caused the concerns.

Fixing a contaminated fuel problem

If your vehicle is running poorly and your mechanic suspects contaminated fuel, take the following steps:

1. Note the time, date, and location the fuel was purchased (receipts are a big help).

2. Have a qualified mechanic report on the damage done. Keep all damaged/replaced parts and full documentation of what is done. Factual evidence is important.

3. Get a qualified mechanic to take a sample of the fuel from the tank to be analysed. Keep it stored in a clean sealed container. The best container is a new fuel can, sold at service stations, and at least a litre of fuel is recommended. If the fuel was purchased in the previous 24 hours, it can also be of benefit to take obtain a second specimen directly from the service station.

4. To help improve the future quality of fuel the RACV recommends reporting fuel quality issues to the Federal Department of the Environment. The Department is for the fuel quality standards in Australia and can be contacted on 1800 803 772 or by filling out this form.

5. Speak with the relevant service station and fuel company regarding the fuel and repairs. If it can be proven that the fuel has caused the damage, owners should be reimbursed for the cost of repairs. It can be beneficial to make a claim in writing with all your documentation.

6. If you’re not satisfied with the situation, contact Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 55 81 81 for further advice. Fuel testing can be completed at Intertek, they can be contacted on (03) 9646 9299.

IMPORTANT:
In most cases the repairs will need to be paid for by the individual and once the cause of damage has been proven the individual will be reimbursed by the supplier. You may need to prove that all costs incurred are a result of the contaminated fuel.

Motoring taxes and charges

How motoring taxes are charged

The State and Federal Governments continue to tax all motorists heavily. Motorists currently pay taxes:

  • from registration and licensing fees
  • on almost 40% of each litre of fuel
  • the GST, stamp duty and other taxes on vehicle purchases.
Infographic on where petrol money goes

Where your petrol money goes

On a pump price of 150.6cpl, 38.1c is collected in fuel excise (indexed to increase every 6 months) and 13.7c in GST. This makes up about 40% of each litre of fuel. In 2015/16 the Federal Government expects to raise $15.2 billion through the fuel excise alone. Less than half of the total tax revenue collected goes back into transport improvements.

The way motorists are charged needs to change

The fuel excise is a major revenue source but is unsustainable in the long term. More fuel-efficient, hybrid and electrical vehicles on the road means a decline in fuel excise revenue.

The fuel excise and the other government charges need to be replaced with a new road user charging system. Revenue needs be collected more fairly and all of it invested more efficiently to improve the community’s mobility and safety.

What is a user pays system?

Many countries are trialling systems that have charges similar to the way we currently pay for gas, electricity and water. The user pays only for connection to the system and how much they use.  

What are the next steps?

RACV believes that Federal and State Governments in Australia need to commit to changing motoring taxes so they are fit for purpose. Government, in consultation with the community and key stakeholders, should develop a fairer, more equitable and transparent road user charging system.

RACV, our sister clubs and the Australian Automobile Association are supportive of developing a road user charging system that is simpler, fairer and directly linked to investments to improve our road and public transport system.