Walk to work? Buy a bike? You'll need better ideas than those if your budget is going to survive the sky-rocketing fuel price. Here are some suggestions.
Another month, another fuel price increase. In March 2022, the petrol price tipped past the R20 per litre mark, with one expert warning that rising oil prices could send it as high as R40 a litre. Diesel has also crept past R18 per litre. Yikes! So what are your options? You could sell your car and use a bicycle for your daily commute, or you could be smart and follow these fuel-saving tips.
"Fuel-saving strategies don't really change month to month," says Layton Beard of the AA. "It's really a question of being informed about your own vehicle and what it does in terms of its consumption. That's a very critical part of responsible vehicle ownership." In other words: know your car and treat it well.
Beard warns that there are no quick fixes. "People think that there's a switch you can flip when you give them a fuel-saving tip and it's going to immediately reduce their fuel spend by 20%," he says. "That doesn't happen. It has to come through a process."
He suggests the following:
Step 1 is to start a logbook. Keep track of how much fuel you use on an average workday (when you drive a specific route at specific times) and on an average weekend. Then determine how many litres of petrol or diesel you're getting per kilometre based on your monthly fuel spend. "It's very important that you understand how much fuel you're using, and budget accordingly," says Beard.
While it may not be practical for everybody, avoiding peak-hour traffic is a proven fuel-saving tactic. Working from home will obviously cut your fuel costs, but if your circumstances don't allow it, then try to renegotiate your office arrival and exit times. Get there an hour or two earlier or later, and you'll skip (or at least reduce) the fuel-sucking drudge of sitting in traffic. "Peak hour traffic is a huge drain on fuel," says Beard. "Instead of being stuck in stop-start traffic for an hour each way, you may find yourself on relatively open roads at different times."
Next, use your phone's GPS to find the shortest route. Apps like Waze and Google Maps also monitor traffic volumes, so they'll show you the shortest route while helping you avoid the dreaded bumper-to-bumper back-ups.
Driving fast will burn a lot of fuel. (There's a reason Formula 1 cars have to stop mid-race to top up!) "Frequent braking and heavy acceleration will use more fuel," warns Beard, adding that driving at a more sedate pace will help you save at the pump. Accelerating from 0 to 20 km/h should take at least five seconds.
While you're at it, go easy on the cooling. "Understand that certain things like aircon will drain your fuel," says Beard, pointing to Canadian research that found that AC's extra load on your engine could increase fuel consumption by up to 20%.
Meanwhile, the UK's Royal Automobile Club reckons that, on average, your fuel consumption increases by 2% for every 50 kg of load your car carries. (Smaller cars are worse affected than bakkies, which are built to carry loads.) So empty all that rubbish out of your boot, drive slowly, and crank the aircon down a notch.
"A car that is serviced and maintained is going to run optimally and use only the necessary amount of fuel," says Beard. So be sure to budget for the cost of your annual car service so there's no excuse for skimping on maintenance.
Also, check your tyres. "Running on tyres that aren't inflated correctly may have an impact on your fuel usage," Beard adds. "The same is true if your tyres aren't balanced or aligned properly." Refer to your owner's manual to get your vehicle's tyre pressure specifications, and ensure you regularly check the tyre pressure and alignment.
No, we don't mean go out right now and buy an electric car. (But you might want to what's available in our South African Car Guide.) What we mean is: next time you need to buy a car, be sure to compare your options. "If you're in the market for a gas guzzler like a big bakkie or an SUV, you need to understand that this will have an impact," says Beard. "These factors all come down to your buying decision and what you'll be using the vehicle for." For some, a fuel-efficient hatchback may be the main priority, while for others, people-carrying or off-roading might be more important.
Each option adds a new variable to calculating your monthly fuel budget. So does where you live (fuel prices are different in Gauteng and at the coast), how you drive (as explained above), how you commute (you should spend less on fuel if you're working from home), the fuel economy of your car, the size of its fuel tank and the type of fuel you use (and, if it's petrol, its octane). But with petrol now around R20 per litre, you'll be paying a cool R1 000 to fill up a 50-litre tank. While you're filling up, take two minutes to compare Car Insurance quotes. You could save R5 000 a year*.
As the fuel price continues to rise, fuel efficiency will be a growing issue for household budgets. The solutions – maintaining your vehicle, and not driving like a maniac – will also help your car last longer, so it's a winner all round. Take care of your vehicle by using our free, no-hassle online tools to compare deals on Car Insurance, Motor Warranties, Service Plans and more.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice.
* Cumulative monthly savings over 12 months. Based on independent research by Kaufman Levin & Associates, 2021.