Simple ways of reducing your fuel bill

The recent fuel price increases place even further constraints on disposable income – but it need not be all gloom and doom for motorists because they can curtail costs with a little planning and common sense.
And there can be no better incentive than the prospects of several more fuel hikes in the pipe-line over the next few months.

The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) says monthly costs can be contained by careful planning, adopting the correct driving style and selecting your vehicle of choice with more consideration for its economy.

“The situation is not being helped by the impact of load-shedding on traffic lights and consequently the amount of time spent in traffic jams,” says Ed Kok, managing director of the AA. “Extra time spent on the road equals more fuel consumption and the impact will begin to be felt in the mileage drivers usually expect to get from a tank.”

The AA recently investigated the impact of congestion on a car's engine, monitoring typical commuter routes during congested times and off-peak times when the traffic flowed more easily.

The investigation showed that a vehicle could be running for up to 65% longer in peak hour traffic than when driving the same route in off-peak times.

“Take a typical 55km commute between Pretoria and Sandton,” explains Kok. “Under normal circumstances you could complete the journey in about 35 minutes at an average speed of 95km/h. In peak hour traffic, your travelling time becomes 90 minutes, meaning the car is running for 55 additional minutes. Consider your return journey and your car will run for an additional 110 minutes every day.”

Assuming that a typical 1600 petrol engine consumes about 1.5-litres per hour when idling, this daily commute would use an additional 2.75-litres of petrol. “That's without taking into consideration the increased consumption experienced in stop-start traffic,” says Kok.

That translates into 13.75 additional litres of petrol per week, 55 litres or a typical tankful a month, or 660 extra litres a year. At the increased petrol price of R7.50 per litre of 93 unleaded, Mr Average Motorist could be spending as much as an additional R4,950 a year for sitting in traffic.

“South African motorists now need to consider fuel consumption carefully in their purchasing decisions,” says Kok. “The difference between a car that uses 7 litres/100km and one that averages 12 litres/100km can have a monthly budget impact of as much as R625 a month on a vehicle travelling 20,000km a year.”

However, he says there are measures that can be taken immediately to reduce fuel consumption, simply by adopting a careful driving style. “Avoiding harsh acceleration and high revs can save a substantial amount of fuel,” says Kok. “Anticipating the flow of traffic maintains momentum by selecting the right gear early or decelerating early for stops rather than being heavy on the brakes. All these things contribute towards improved economy.

“Keeping your vehicle properly maintained will also help it operate as efficiently as possible,” continues Kok. “Checking tyre pressures regularly also helps as under-inflated tyres have increased drag. Using the air-conditioning only when necessary and keeping the windows closed all helps save little bits of fuel – little bits that add up quickly over the course of a month.”

Perhaps the simplest way of reducing fuel consumption is to drive less. “It sounds profound, but carefully planning your routes and timing activities in common areas together can result in fewer trips. Lift clubs aren't really in the South African psyche, but sharing lifts when independence isn't necessary helps traffic, never mind the money you spend on fuel.”

Quite simple, really: reducing the distance you cover, reduces your monthly fuel bill.

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