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It seems like every time we pull up to the pump, the price of fuel is a few cents higher per litre. Prices fluctuate more than the daily temperature in Melbourne and are affected by a myriad of economic and political factors outside the control of the consumer. The average Australian home spends around $60/week on fuel for vehicles and that amount is rising steadily. No wonder fuel economy, fuel consumption and sustainable driving practices are a hot topic. But, what is fuel economy, exactly?

pumping fuel

What is Fuel Economy?

Fuel economy indicates the distance a vehicle can travel on one tank of fuel. Fuel economy is measured in kilometres per litre in Australia (and miles per gallon in non-metric countries).

Why is Fuel Economy Important?

The more fuel you need to put into your car, the more your vehicle is going to cost you to run. There are many design factors that impact a vehicle’s fuel economy like size, shape, engine type, fuel size, intended purpose and colour. Think carefully about fuel economy when choosing to purchase a car; some cars are more efficient than others. For example, a small hatchback will usually have better fuel economy than a four-wheel drive. Always consider your driving requirements and lifestyle and choose the most efficient vehicle to suit your needs.


When comparing cars with different fuel economies, it’s important understand that the car with the better fuel economy will use less fuel to cover the same distance which will therefore have a lower impact on your wallet and the environment. This is why cars with good fuel economy are often referred to as ‘green’ vehicles or environmentally friendly models. Not only will you be saving money at the petrol pump each week, you’ll also be reducing your greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint. Smaller vehicles and hybrid vehicles (most commonly hybrid electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius) have better fuel economy, so consider these options when purchasing a vehicle. You can check the fuel economy of most post-2004 vehicles in Australia at the Green Vehicle Guide.

Reducing Your Fuel Consumption

Apart from choosing a car with good fuel economy from the outset, there are few things you can do to reduce your car’s fuel consumption, increase fuel economy and reduce environmental impact.


The obvious way to reduce your fuel consumption is to use your car less. You could walk, ride or take public transport to work a few times a week. Arrange a car pool. Negotiate teleworking (if your job allows it). Combine errands so that you’re only running your car once; vehicles run more efficiently after the engine has warmed up, which usually takes a few minutes, depending on the weather conditions. Do not sit your car in your driveway in idle to ‘let it warm up’, this actually wastes fuel and pumps more pollution into the atmosphere. Focus on changing your driving habits. There are small things you can do to, in some instances, drastically reduce your fuel consumption:

  • Don’t accelerate or brake excessively.
  • Choose the right gear. Drive smoothly; jerky stop/start driving kills your fuel economy.
  • If you own a four-wheel drive, do not operate your vehicle in 4WD unless absolutely necessary. Engaging all four wheels increases the amount of fuel needed to power your vehicle. If driving your 4WD on flat surfaces, bitumised roads or non-corrugated surfaces, leave your car in 2WD (most 4WDs offer you this option) to increase your fuel efficiency.
  • Avoid driving in peak hour or on congested roads.
  • Watch your speed; your vehicle’s fuel efficiency decreases dramatically at higher speeds (you may use up to 25% more fuel at 110 km/h than at 90km/h).
  • Maintain your vehicle; proper, ongoing maintenance of your vehicle will ensure your vehicle is running at its optimum performance level. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and have your vehicle serviced regularly according to their guidelines. Change the oil and air filter regularly. Check tyre pressure; incorrect tyre pressure may reduce your vehicle’s efficiency by up to 3% and may also reduce the life of the tyre by 10%.
  • Watch your vehicle’s weight. An extra 40kgs in your car could reduce your fuel efficiency by 1%. If you don’t need to use that surfboard or those golf clubs today, take them out of the car. Likewise, if you don’t need the pram today, take it out. Don’t lug that box of shoes or clothes around you were meaning to drop off at the op shop- get it out of your car!

watch your vehicle weight

  • Limit the use of your vehicle’s air conditioning system. Air conditioning can have a huge impact on your fuel economy. Weather permitting, open your windows to circulate air, however be warned that opening windows also increases drag which reduces your fuel efficiency too. Try to keep your car cooler to begin with, so choose a car with a light paint colour, park in shady spots, crack the windows slightly while parked and before driving on hot days to let the hot air escape and use a windshield screen wherever possible.
  • Minimise drag. Try not to drive with open windows. Don’t drive with anything on the roof racks or rooftop storage unnecessarily; roof racks/bike racks can reduce your fuel efficiency by up to 20 percent!
  • Use the right fuel! Your car is designed to operate at maximum efficiency on certain types of fuel. Your car’s manufacturer will indicate this in the operating instructions. Follow their advice. Although ‘regular’ petrol may be a few cents cheaper at the pump, if your car isn’t designed to run on regular, you may be paying the hidden costs of lower fuel efficiency (so you’re filling up more often) and increased wear and tear on your vehicle (which may mean higher maintenance costs).

Saving Money at the Pump

There are few ways you can save money at the petrol pump each week. First, choose the right fuel, even if it’s a little bit more expensive at the outset. As mentioned above, your vehicle is designed to operate on a minimum standard of fuel, as indicated in your manufacturer’s instructions; use the standard indicated. This also means that, unless your manufacturer specifically indicates premium, you don’t need to use it. Premium petrol is often significantly more expensive and is a waste of money if not actually required by your vehicle. Most cars operate efficiently on ‘mid-range’ fuel (95 octane).

petrol bowser

Fill up during the cooler parts of the day. Gasoline expands with heat, so get your money’s worth and fill up early in the morning or later in the evening when the weather’s not as hot. It might only make a small difference each fill up but the savings will add up over time.

Shop around. Not every service station is created equal and their prices vary. Make sure you compare fuel prices in your local and surrounding areas to get the best deal available.

The Final Word

We can’t stop the price of fuel climbing but we can decrease the impact the price rises have on our wallets. Careful car choice, moderate driving, regular maintenance and proper fuel type will all set you on the right track to live a more ‘fuel efficient’ lifestyle. Happy driving.  

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