Fuel saving tips for road trips

man fuelling car

Danny Baggs

Posted April 04, 2022

Road trips are great for spontaneous holidays, but it’s important to budget for fuel costs. Here are the best fuel saving tips for road trips and long drives.

A good road trip is hard to beat: tunes blasting, friends laughing, sun shining as you wind your way through backroads and never-ending highways in search of adventure. The only drawback is the fuel costs associated with long drives – now more than ever, due to increasing fuel prices. Here is how to save fuel next time you hit the road.

Tips to save fuel

Pack less luggage

More weight in the car means higher fuel consumption. Keep your vehicle as light as possible by only packing the essentials. Make sure to clear out your car before a road trip: those gym bags and golf clubs add up!

You can also leave add-ons like bike racks at home if you won’t use them on the trip. Roof racks and bull bars of any sort increase aerodynamic drag, which has a negative impact on fuel consumption.

Avoid traffic jams and peak hours

Idling is the bane of fuel consumption and emissions, which is why new cars often automatically shut off when you roll to a complete stop. Idling at traffic lights, in parking lots or at drive-throughs means that your car is consuming fuel at zero kilometres per litre. If you’ll be waiting a minute or more, try to shut off your engine and restart when you can drive again. Hitting the road before or after peak traffic hours can also help to minimise idling and stop-starts entirely.

traffic jam

Traffic jams are notorious for wasting fuel.

Use a fuel price app like Arevo

Now that petrol prices are steadily climbing higher, checking where the best fuel prices are is more important than ever. Keep an eye on your petrol tank and plan refuelling stops wisely.

You can find your local fuel prices on RACV's online petrol price map. There are also several smartphone apps that track petrol prices across Australia, like RACV’s arevo journey planner app. Along with trip routing via bike, public transport or car, the app also shows you real-time petrol prices and trends so you can find the cheapest time and place to buy petrol, wherever you are in Victoria. While you’re at it, you can also check real-time parking availability and pricing so you can stop circling the block and wasting fuel in search of a park.

arevo fuel price comparison app

RACV's arevo journey planner app displays real-time fuel prices at petrol stations near you.

Maintain moderate and consistent driving speeds

Driving sensibly means avoiding high speeds, harsh braking, and quick acceleration. These things all increase your car’s fuel consumption, and can even put you in danger. Instead, observe the speed limit and avoid aggressive driving.

If your car has the feature, use cruise control on motorways to stay at a steady pace. Drivers need to slightly brake and accelerate to maintain speed. Cruise control allows the car to make these adjustments itself – and because it’s a machine, it can do so much more accurately, reducing the extra fuel consumption from all those little surges and brakes. Turn it off when you approach a hill, however, because you will want to accelerate a little before you reach the peak and ease off as you descend, to minimise fuel consumption.

Get your car serviced before you leave

If you’re nearing your next car service date before a road trip, it’s a good idea to get your service done and dusted before you go away at an RACV Accredited Auto Care Centre or authorised dealer. Replacing dirty air filters or tuning your engine may improve fuel consumption. A car service can also make sure that your car has a healthy level of oil.

You can check how close your service is by checking when your car’s service booklet was last stamped, looking at the sticker that most mechanics place on the inside of your windscreen, or seeing if your car’s service indicator light is on. Your car owner’s handbook can also tell you how long your car should go between services.

mechanic servicing a car

Take your car for a service before a long road trip.

Pump up your tyres

If you look at the tyre sticker on your vehicle, it should display a minimum and maximum PSI (pounds per square inch) pressure recommendation depending on the load. The sticker is often found on the inside of the driver’s door.

Pump up your tyres to the maximum recommended pressure (including your spare, in case you get a flat tyre en route) to reduce rolling resistance and fuel consumption. Many petrol stations have a free-to-use tyre air system that allows you to select which PSI you need. You can also pick up a handheld tire gauge from auto shops if you’d like to check your tyre pressure at home.

If you can, perform a tyre pressure check in colder temperatures, like at night or early in the morning. Tyre pressure is affected by temperature, as the tyres will expand slightly in heat. Driving also heats up the tyres, so try to pump them up at the start of your drive rather than in the middle of a trip.

Check out RACV's top tips for better tyre safety to stay safe and save money at the bowser.

pumping air into tyres

Remember to pump up your tyres to the appropriate PSI.

Air conditioning on or windows down?

There has been a lot of back-and-forth about whether using your car’s air conditioning or simply rolling down the windows is better for fuel efficiency. Here is the short answer: in urban areas and other low-speed zones, use your windows to avoid the extra engine power used to power your AC. But on highways and high-speed zones, roll those windows up and put the AC on, because open windows create more aerodynamic drag.

Join a fuel rewards program

Australian fuel cards come with loyalty programs to help you get the most out of your fuel purchases. By returning to buy fuel at the same fuel chain, you will quickly rack up points per dollar spent that can be redeemed on rewards like discounts or special deals.