Fuel costs can put a major dent in the family budget, but fortunately there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your consumption.

The recent spell of low fuel prices has been welcome relief for many of us who depend on the car for transport, but sooner or later they will start heading north again. It makes a lot of sense, therefore, to do whatever you can to improve fuel efficiency. This can not only save you money, it will also reduce your carbon footprint. Here are a few pointers on what you can do to reduce your consumption.

Can LPG or diesel save you money?
This is often a hotly contested debate and the many variables involved can make it difficult to compare, but there is a strong argument that both diesel and LPG can be more budget friendly.

LPG certainly uses more fuel to drive the same distance as petrol due to the lower energy content of LPG, but the cost of LPG compared to petrol more than offsets this disadvantage. The downside of LPG is that a car fitted with LPG is more expensive to buy and the cost of converting a car from petrol to LPG is no longer subsidised by the government. This means that the cost benefit of the fuel will take some time to make up for the upfront cost of purchase, but if you are doing a reasonable distance every year then it could well be worth the switch.

Diesel too can offer potential savings. It has gone a long way to shedding its image as a smelly and noisy way to get around, thanks to improvements in engine technology over recent years. Diesel engines are getting quieter and cleaner and are now available even in many smaller cars, so it is not surprising that they are taking an increasing share of the new car market.

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Petrol is the most widely-used fuel in Australia, however diesel is becoming more popular

Fuel efficiency is one of the key reasons for this, with diesel having a significant advantage in economy if all other factors are equal. In days gone by the cost per litre of diesel was prohibitive compared to petrol, but this balance has now well and truly swung the other way.

The cost of a diesel car will still be greater than its petrol equivalent, but as with LPG, the more driving you do the quicker you will claw back the extra upfront cost.

How reliable are the fuel efficiency labels?
If you have been shopping for a new car you will be aware of the mandatory labels that now appear on the windscreen. These supposedly provide an indication of the fuel consumption for both urban and “extra urban” (country) driving.

The manufacturers are responsible for testing their own cars and this is done according to conditions set by Australian Design Rules. What many people don’t realise, however, is that they are not done on the road, but rather are done on a dynamometer with artificially created air flow to simulate actual driving conditions.

The controlled guidelines for the test mean that they are indeed a good way to compare different vehicles relative to each other, but their usefulness stops there. Because the test conditions are so artificial, they bear little resemblance to actual realistic driving conditions and consequently the results are generally a lot more favourable than what you will experience in reality.

In short – you can use them to compare efficiency between different cars, but don’t use them to plan your weekly fuel budget!

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The most common reference to fuel effiency measurement is litres per 100km. A rule of thumb: the lower the number of litres stated, the better the fuel economy

9 ways to drive for better fuel efficiency
When it comes to the actual driving of your car from week to week, there are many ways to make a big difference to your fuel consumption. Here are our top tips:

  1. Lazy gear selection in a manual car can chew through the juice. Avoid sitting in a low gear once revs are sufficient to change up and also avoid sitting in a high gear when the engine is straining to maintain revs. 
  2. When driving an automatic stay alert when using the accelerator and ease off slightly when you can hear the engine getting ready to change up.
  3. Erratic braking and acceleration guzzles fuel, so drive smoothly with gradual acceleration and avoid rushing to the speed limit if you can see that the traffic ahead will likely require you to brake. The extension of this rule is, of course, to avoid driving in heavy stop-start traffic where possible. 
  4. Don’t hesitate to switch off the engine if you are stationary for any length of time – leaving a car idling uses up more fuel than you may think.
  5. Speed matters. If you are driving a 110 kph your car will use a lot more than it would travelling at 90 kph.
  6. Items such as roof racks and spoilers can add significantly to air resistance and this extra load will cost you at the bowser, so remove unnecessary accessories if not being used. 
  7. Tyre inflation is essential to optimum operation, so keep the pressure checked regularly
  8. You can expect to use up 10 per cent extra fuel when operating your air conditioner at speeds of over 80 kph.
  9. Regular maintenance to keep your car well-tuned is also essential to ensure the engine is running to its optimum performance and using fuel efficiently.

Do you have more tips? Share your ideas below.