Top tips for fuel-efficient driving

Moving Well | Steve Colquhoun | Posted on 04 February 2019

How to reduce fuel consumption and save money in six easy steps.

Picture this: You have a job interview across town, a car with an empty fuel tank, and 79 cents to your name. For Helen, there was only one solution – to buy the trickle of fuel, and drive like her career depended on it.  

In a sense, it did. She got the job, but the exercise in frugal driving also revealed to Helen the savings she could achieve every day. Later, she met John Taylor, who was assembling a team of drivers in a bid to set fuel-economy records. One of only four women to apply alongside 200 men, Helen demonstrated a natural knack for thrifty driving. “John thought it would be cheaper to marry me than keep paying my wages,” Helen quips. 

Helen and John Taylor have since set dozens of world records by using simple techniques to achieve astonishing economy. On a round-Australia trip in 2012, a team led by John and Helen used a little over eight tanks of fuel. Driving a Jaguar XF Diesel, they set a new record by averaging less than four litres per 100 kilometres over almost 14,000 kilometres of driving, wringing more than 1700 kilometres from each tank.

Car packed ready for a holiday

To help save money on fuel, avoid carrying excess weight.


 

The couple’s three decades of combined experience in economical driving – something they now teach around the world to big businesses seeking to trim fleet costs (fuelacademy.com.au) – has come back into sharp focus in Victoria, where they still live.  

The price for 91 RON, or standard unleaded petrol, spiked to $1.67 per litre in October 2018. At the time of publication, it had returned to its form level, around the $1.20 mark, yet a combination of global and local factors, from international currency fluctuations and political instability in the Middle East, to competition between retailers, natural disasters and supply chain issues, could once again conspire to send prices soaring. 

The costliest mistake, from experience, is not servicing your car as per the manufacturer’s schedule.

In practical terms, an increase from $1.20 to $1.60 such as Melbourne experienced in October would mean the owner of a mid-size car or SUV with a 60-litre tank could be shelling out as much as an extra $24 per fill. If you travel 500 to 600 kilometres weekly, you might need to find an additional $1250 a year. 

Yet as Helen Taylor’s experience proves, there are some significant, sustainable measures you can take to rein in your fuel bill. The type of car you drive, the time of day you commute, your driving style, and when and where you fuel up all may have a significant effect.  

Drivers intent on saving money might be tempted to choose the cheapest fuel at the pump, but Helen cautions this can be a false economy. “Where available, we purchase quality fuels,” she says. “Combined with our driving tips this gives maximum performance, and helps keep all the moving parts clean of gunk, thereby reducing maintenance costs.” 

According to Helen perhaps the most crucial step is one that many drivers overlook. “The costliest mistake, from experience, is not servicing your car as per the manufacturer’s schedule,” Helen says. “This is based on drivers not being able to afford to pay for their service, yet sadly this non-service ends up costing you a lot more in the long run.” 

There’s no bell that rings to tell you it’s time to buy fuel – you have to watch the cycle.

A smart way to save on fuel costs is to pay close attention to the ‘fuel cycle’ – a common trend in cities whereby fuel prices gently fall over a period of weeks, then sharply increase. 

RACV’s manager of vehicle engineering, Michael Case, recommends keeping an eye on RACV’s fuel-price page (see the link below), which has a graph showing average retail and wholesale fuel prices for the past 30 days.  

“There’s no bell that rings at the bottom of the cycle to tell you it’s time to buy fuel – you have to watch the cycle,” Michael says. “When you see the two lines on the graph getting close to one another, that’s a sign that the price could be going to jump imminently.” 

He also urges motorists to use one of various apps for an overview of real-time pricing in their own area, to help choose the retailer with the lowest prices.

“If you can save 20 cents, that’s $10 to $12 per fill,” says Michael. Do that regularly and you will be hundreds of dollars better off in a year.”

Six tips for fuel-efficient driving

  1. Underinflated tyres increase fuel consumption so check tyre pressure regularly.
  2. Obey service intervals – a well-tuned engine with the correct oil at recommended levels can improve fuel economy.
  3. Avoid excess weight – everything you carry in your boot or back seat affects fuel use.
  4. Remove the roof rack if you’re not using it. It creates drag, making the engine work harder.
  5. Use air-conditioning sparingly – it puts extra load on the engine. Use the fan whenever possible.
  6. Drive smoothly – aggressive drivers use as much as one-third more fuel. Avoid hard accelerating or braking and keep your steering smooth.

Source: fuelacademy.com.au

Go to RACV’s fuel price page to follow the ‘fuel cycle’ and pinpoint the cheapest fuel in your postcode.

TIP-TOP TYRES will help you get the most out of a tank of fuel. RACV Mobile Tyres delivers and fits new tyres at your home or workplace.