17 money-saving car hacks to cut the cost of driving

Smiling mechanic standing in front of car with hood open

Sue Hewitt

Posted October 30, 2020

Cut down your driving costs with these easy, efficient, money-saving car hacks.

As Victorians get back on the road and petrol prices head north, the cost of running a car is once again a hot topic. According to RACV research, it costs Victorians an average of $221.38 a week to own and run a medium-sized family sedan

But there are easy ways to cut the cost of driving and relieve pressure on the household budget. We asked RACV’s senior vehicles engineer Nicholas Platt to share his cost-saving car hacks. 

Driving hacks: 17 money-saving car tips

1. Regular services

Regular car maintenance can have a dramatic impact on fuel economy compared with a car that has been neglected – think of a regularly serviced car as sprinter Carl Lewis racing a 1976-model Elvis Presley over 100 metres. Things like not cleaning or replacing your air filter make it difficult for the car to ‘breathe’, which means it has to work much harder for the same result.

RACV always recommends that vehicles are serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. This doesn’t necessarily mean having it serviced at the dealers, which can cost big dollars. As long as an independent service centre, such as RACV’s Accredited Auto Care Centre network, follows the manufacturer’s schedule and uses parts that meet the manufacturer’s standards this will not void a new car warranty.

2. Get pumped

Make sure your tyres are pumped to the pressure advised in the owner’s manual. Not only will properly inflated tyres increase your fuel efficiency, they will also help keep you safe on the road. Low tyre pressure causes erratic wear which can lead to tyre failure and expensive replacements. An underinflated tyre also creates more drag on the road, which increases fuel use. (Plus: Five questions to ask when buying new car tyres)

3. Check your wheel alignment

While checking your tyres, it’s a good idea to ensure your wheels are all aligned. Getting a wheel alignment ensures they’re all working together properly and will increase fuel efficiency, reduce suspension wear and increase the life of your tyres. 

4. Ride the fuel cycle

Don’t fill up when petrol prices are high. Make do with a few dollars of petrol until the price cycle slumps and fuel is more affordable. Even when the fuel cycle dips there are often wide variations between prices at service stations, even in the same suburb, so it pays to shop around to find the cheapest deal. Check RACV’s fuel price website for constantly updated prices. (More: Victoria’s cheapest suburbs for fuel)

You can also drive your dollars further by taking advantage of the five per cent discount available to RACV members on Woolworths Wish e-gift cards. The cards can be used at EG Ampol co-branded fuel outlets, allowing you to save $5 in every $100 spent at the pump.

5. Ditch the premium unleaded petrol

Unless your car specifically requires you to use it, RACV research shows that filling up with premium unleaded petrol (PULP) 98 adds an extra $239.40 a year to the average fuel bill, compared with using regular unleaded fuel, even though many cars get no benefit from the more expensive fuel. But Nicholas advises against opting for the bargain-basement option of E10. It might cost you less at the pump but, over the long term, it will cost you more than regular unleaded as it is less efficient and, therefore, you use more. (More: RACV experts debunk 10 of the most common petrol myths)


Cars suspended in a mechanic's workshop.

Ensuring your wheels are aligned helps your car stay in top condition.

6. Unload your junk

Don’t use your car to store junk. The heavier your car, the harder the engine has to work and the more fuel you’ll burn through. So clear out your back seats and boot to the bare necessities only.

7. Save on insurance 

Ask your insurer for any discounts that are available. Some insurers offer multi-policy discounts if they have two or more policies, and the savings can really add up. 

8. Lose the roof racks

If you’re not using them, take the roof racks off because they create wind drag and affect a car’s aerodynamic performance. Take off those roof storage tubs too if you want to cut fuel use. Keeping the windows and sun roof closed will also help improve your car’s aerodynamic performance and fuel efficiency. 

9. Don’t warm up

Remember the days when dad would ‘warm up the car’ by turning on the engine five minutes before hitting the road. Modern cars don’t need time to warm up to achieve the optimal temperature for driving, so leaving the car to idle is simply wasting petrol and money.   

10. Cool it down

When you hop into a hot car, open the windows to let out the hot air and turn the air-conditioner on to recirculation.That way you are cooling the same air from inside repeatedly instead of drawing in hot air from outside. 

11. Cruise down the highway 

Cruise control maintains your speed, so you’re not slowing down then accelerating again, which uses more fuel. Modern cars have an economy button which is great for long trips and saves petrol but it can make the car less zippy and unsuitable for most city driving. 

12. Go the long way... sometimes 

There are times you might save money by driving further. If the direct route is congested it can cost money to sit in traffic while an alternative but longer route is quicker and uses less fuel. 

13. Combine errands

Need to go to the post office, the bank and the supermarket? Combining them all in one trip will save on fuel, as your car uses far less petrol when the engine is warm than starting from cold.

14. Drive economically 

You don’t have to drive like an L-plater to save on fuel, but rapid acceleration and hard braking chew through fuel. Drive smoothly and maintain a steady speed to get the most from a tankful. If you’re driving an automatic, ease back slightly on the accelerator once the car has reached sufficient speed. In a manual, use the gearbox sensibly and change up through the gears as soon as practical.

15. Keep it clean

If your car is starting to look grimy, it might be time to grab a bucket, sponge and some wax, and show it a bit of TLC. Dust, mud and spots of bird droppings left on your car can damage the paintwork and wipe thousands of dollars off your car’s resale value. Nicholas says there is also some evidence to suggest a car is more aerodynamic when it's clean, thereby using less fuel. Another reason to break out that bucket. 

16. Choose your carpark

Car parking can be expensive, particularly if you work in the city. Leaving your car on the city fringe then catching a tram or walking to work could save you a lot of money over the course of a year.

17. Get a free driver’s licence

If you’re under 25 and have a clean driving record, you could be eligible for a free three-year driver’s licence. VicRoads’ Free Licence Scheme is designed to reward young drivers for good driving while on their P-plates. To be eligible you need to have got your P1 licence before turning 21, had a Victorian probationary licence for four years, have no demerit points and have committed no traffic-related offences.