Fuel consumption

Not sure whether to buy a petrol, diesel or hybrid car? Or use E10, regular or premium fuel? Get to know the differences and discover top fuel-saving tips along the way.

The days when you filled up your car and the litres column turned faster than the dollars column on the petrol pump are, unfortunately, long gone. Global factors such as the cost of crude oil and refined products have all contributed to fuel prices heading north. While at home, government and regulatory levies, as well as the emissions trading scheme, have played a part.

But there are ways you can reduce the impact of fuel costs on your budget.

E10 or premium?

At most service stations you'll find E10, regular unleaded petrol (ULP), and premium ULP available. E10 is a blend of 90 per cent unleaded petrol and 10 per cent ethanol which, unlike oil, is a renewable fuel, made from plant-based waste products.

It will generally be the cheapest option at the pump, but check your car's manual to find out if it's recommended for your vehicle. Some later model cars, for example, should be run only on premium unleaded petrol.

While premium ULP is more expensive, it burns more efficiently and because the car runs better, you should get better mileage.

Hybrid cars

These combine electric motors and conventional engines, which means less fuel consumption than a conventional petrol vehicle and lower ongoing costs. Because of the way their engines function, hybrids are best suited to city driving.

Toyota introduced the first hybrid car in Australia, the Prius, in 2001, so has had time to work with the technology.

Since then, other hybrids have been launched into the market and more are being developed both here and overseas.

Hybrids are more expensive to purchase up front, but fuel costs will be less over the life of the vehicle.

Emissions of hybrid cars are lower than those of conventional vehicles, which can be an important factor for some car buyers.

Diesel cars

Despite diesel's reputation as a dirty fuel, modern fuel-injected turbo diesel engines are very efficient, and last longer. While diesel vehicles may cost slightly more than a similar petrol-fuelled car, they become economical if you are making regular long trips.

As a general guide, if you drive 30,000km a year or more, over long distances, the higher cost of a diesel vehicle may be worth it.

Like petrol, diesel is available everywhere, so it's a safe choice.

Diesel engines shine when it comes to towing or carrying heavy loads and driving long distances.

Electric cars

Electric vehicles are not yet widely available in Australia, and those that are available are relatively expensive.

Running costs are obviously much cheaper than fuel-powered cars. But a lack of charging infrastructure means that only people with reasonably short commutes, and somewhere to recharge, could realistically take up this option for now.

Top Fuel-Saving Tips

  • Plan ahead - don't make five small trips. Combine them into a more efficient single outing
  • Unnecessary weight costs fuel and increases wear and tear, so empty the boot
  • Never use fuel that's a lower grade than your car needs - it can cause mechanical damage
  • Buy a car that suits your driving habits - city driving is harder on diesels, and long freeway trips reduce the advantages of a hybrid
  • Buy a new car with the latest technology, keep it well-maintained and replace it in 3-5 years

Pros of Non-Petrol Cars

  • Pay less at the pump
  • Reduce your carbon footprint
  • Government rebates or potential tax exemptions for some choices

Cons of Non-Petrol Cars

  • Cost of purchase can be high
  • Convenience - Finding fuel can be a challenge with LPG
  • Range - Electric cars have limited range before they need to be re-charged so journeys need to be carefully planned
  • Particulates - While diesel engines are highly fuel-efficient and produce low CO2 emissions, they also (especially in the case of older diesels) produce particulates which are harmful to the environment