Help us make fuel price boards fair

Fuel price board graphic

PRICE CONFUSION: A price board with the prices of all fuel blends means motorists will have more information to make the right choice to fill up.

Have you ever seen a good deal on a service station price board only to find that when you get to the bowser, the price is different or the price of the fuel type you use isn’t even listed on the board?

The kids might be screaming in the back of the car, you might be in a real hurry, or for another reason, you fill up anyway and feel like you’ve been duped.

The NRMA believes it is high time every blend of fuel including E10, unleaded, premium, LPG and diesel should be displayed on service station price boards.

Judging by government, stakeholder, media and public reaction, it would appear that momentum is gathering for universal rules that would force oil companies to display all fuel prices of their boards.

The Australian Government along with representatives from state governments met in Adelaide last Friday 6 July to determine if displaying all prices on price boards should be legislated. The meeting occurred one day after the NRMA released the results of a Member survey that found overwhelming support for fairer price boards with 95 per cent wanting it mandatory for service stations to advertise all fuels on their price boards.

Additionally, the NSW Government has released a discussion paper looking at making it compulsory for the price of all types of fuel to be listed on price boards. The NRMA will be responding to the discussion paper and will be strongly supporting this proposed change.

Please let us know what you think we should be telling the government through our submission.

The survey of 800 Members found one-in-two motorists have been caught out by misleading fuel price boards in the last year, while more than half drove into a service station expecting a certain price only to discover it was more expensive. Over 30 per cent claim this happened at least three times in the last year.

Proposed changes would also force supermarket aligned service stations to advertise their actual fuel price and not just the discounted shopper-docket price.

A price board with the prices of all fuel blends means motorists will have more information to make the right choice to fill up. It will encourage service stations to fight harder for customers driving past and may promote greater competition and therefore, cheaper prices.

Media have supported the NRMA’s push for mandatory price boards with strong print, radio and regional television coverage across the state. The NRMA has been campaigning for some time and we hope to achieve a win for motorists soon.

Have you been in a situation where you paid more than what you thought was advertised on a price board? We would like to hear from you and may use your comments to form part of our submission to the NSW Government on fuel price boards.

Unleaded petrol now to remain past 2012

Update from October 2012: The NSW State Government has changed the E10 requirements again. The phase-out of straight unleaded petrol (ULP) has been abandoned but the mandate that fuel suppliers must sell 6% of their total petrol sales as ethanol has been retained. Therefore you may continue to see ULP in service stations, although reports to NRMA indicate that it is hard to find. A reminder also that E85 is available at a limited number of servos – you must not use this fuel unless your vehicle is suitable for it, for instance all current model Holden Commodores, the Saab Biopower models and a limited number of current Chrysler models.

The NSW Government recently announced that it was abandoning the phase-out of standard unleaded petrol (ULP) from 30 June 2012. This means that ULP may remain available well after 2012. However, in many areas, particularly in and around Sydney, straight unleaded petrol (ULP) is now difficult to find, so vehicle owners may wish to switch to E10.

Before using E10, vehicle owners must check if an ethanol blend is suitable for their vehicle – this information can be found in the owner’s manual, by contacting NRMA Motoring Advice (call 13 11 22) and on the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries website.

For cars that cannot use E10, premium-grade unleaded petrol without ethanol will continue to be available.

Our May 2010 blog post about unleaded petrol contained several comments that owners found their vehicle had much higher fuel consumption when using E10 compared with ULP. If your vehicle is in good condition you should not experience much more than the theoretical 3% increase in fuel consumption.

However, if you try E10 and experience an unusually high impact on fuel consumption, here are some possible causes and things you can do about them:

  • Was there water in your fuel tank from earlier contaminated petrol? If so, the E10 will take the water into solution and your car may run roughly until the first tank of E10 is used up.
  • Is your fuel filter clogged? Ethanol is a powerful solvent and may loosen residues in your fuel system. Try changing the fuel filter after the first couple of tanks of E10.
  • Is your ignition system in good condition? A slightly misfiring spark plug may be exacerbated by E10 leading to a severe misfire and increase in fuel consumption. If you feel your vehicle is running roughly, have your vehicle serviced if it has not been done recently.
  • Is there an engine check or warning light showing on your dash? Your engine management system and fuel injection system need to be in good condition. Modern vehicles are designed to monitor oxygen in the exhaust and should be able to adjust to E10. However a malfunctioning oxygen sensor or other component may mean that your vehicle is not achieving this. Have your vehicle serviced if it has not been done recently.

Does the extension of the phase-out date of ULP help you?

LPG – would you convert?

This blog is the final in our series on fuels. We aimed to clear up the confusion about which fuels are the best to use by looking at each one in detail – premium unleaded, E10 and E85, Diesel and finally, LPG.

LPG fuel pump

Have you converted your car to LPG?

LPG

There has been much discussion in the media recently in regard to excise (tax) on LPG, which was promised by the previous Federal Government and will be introduced at 2.5 cents per litre from December this year, increasing at 2.5 c/L each year until it reaches 12.5 c/L in 2015.  While this makes converting to LPG or buying a new LPG car less attractive, how much impact will it really have?

If we assume you travel 20,000 kilometres per year in a large vehicle (these are the ones most often converted) that has a petrol consumption of 15 litres per 100 km, you will use 20,000 x 15/100 = 3000 litres of petrol.  If we assume petrol is $1.40/L the petrol cost will be $4,200.

Fuel consumption when using LPG in dual-fuel (or bi-fuel) is around 30% higher when using LPG, so we can expect around 19.5 L/100 km, meaning a year’s usage will be around 3,900 litres of LPG.  At 65 c/L for LPG, this would cost $2,535, a saving of $1,665.

A conversion for a modern vehicle costs $4,000-4,500 so if no excise was to be added, the payback period would be 2.5 to 2.7 years.  After this you have paid back the conversion cost and are saving the difference between the petrol and LPG price every time you fill up.

With excise increasing by 2.5 c/L per year and ending up at 12.5 cents per litre, this would increase your yearly LPG cost by around $100 each year, to $3,023 in 2015, saving about $1,200 compared with petrol.  This gives a payback period of around 3.5 years so you would want to be confident you would be keeping the vehicle for some time.

Of course, all these calculations are based on current fuel prices.  If they change significantly, you would have to recalculate the amounts and payback periods.

There are also grants available for people wanting to convert their vehicle. See the AusIndustry LPG Vehicle Scheme for more information.

Have you converted your car to LPG and have you found it a cost-effective exercise?  

Diesel – fuel for thought

In the third part of our Fuel series, we look at diesel.

diesel pump at petrol station

Are diesel cars more fuel-efficient?

As price-pressured motorists look to get more bang from their buck, sales of diesel light vehicles have increased rapidly over the last couple of years.  Due to lower fuel consumption rates than an equivalent petrol engine, diesel engines are the standard in heavy vehicles. So why not in light engines too?

Pros:

  • Modern diesel engines are as quiet, smooth and powerful as petrol engines and are more fuel-efficient.

Cons:

  • One disadvantage often mentioned by NRMA Members is that diesel handpieces at garages often have a film of diesel fuel over them, as any spillage does not evaporate as quickly as petrol.  And if the diesel gets on your hands or clothing, the smell is difficult to remove. Retailers are making efforts to avoid this but have not yet found a perfect system.

Consider:

  • Diesel fuel does not contain more energy than petrol. In fact, it contains marginally less.
  • Whereas the intake of a petrol engine has a throttle blade in it, which forms an obstruction and reduces efficiency, a diesel engine doesn’t. Therefore, it gets lower fuel consumption.
  • Diesel variants are often more expensive to purchase than the petrol ones, so if your interest is purely in lower running costs, make sure it is going to make sense for you by checking out the NRMA’s Car Operating Cost Calculator.
  • In many cases, the higher initial purchase cost outweighs the reduced fuel cost.  But you are also gambling on the price of diesel staying similar to petrol over several years.
  • If you have never driven a diesel-engined vehicle and are considering purchasing one, you should test drive a few to see how it feels.

If you drive a diesel car, do you feel you’ve you got your money back in reduced fuel/servicing costs?  And are you happy with the driving characteristics of diesel?

Ethanol in petrol – is it ok for my car?

This is the second blog in our series on Fuels.  In the first blog we looked at premium fuels, now we take a look at ethanol in petrol (E10 and E85).

ethanol in petrol

Does an ethanol petrol blend affect the performance of your car?

E10

E10 is standard unleaded petrol (ULP) with 10% ethanol added. Expanded use of E10 is a strategy endorsed by the NRMA Board and aims to encourage the take-up of ethanol – which is locally produced and reduces Australia’s dependence on fossil fuels. Straight unleaded is now getting harder to find.

Vehicles built pre-1986, some post-1986 vehicles, most small engines such as chainsaws and whipper-snippers and most Japanese motorcycles are recommended NOT to use ethanol. These vehicles and power tools will have to use premium petrol when ULP becomes unavailable.

Motorists whose vehicles cannot use ethanol should be aware that all petrol distributed by United contains ethanol except its Premium 98. View a list of all petrol grades available in NSW.

The octane of E10 is commonly 93-94, so motorists whose vehicles are specified for 95 octane fuel should be cautious using E10. If you want to try E10 check that there are no unusual noises like rattling or pinging under acceleration, which is a sign that the octane is too low.  United claims its E10 is 95 octane.

Check whether your vehicle is suitable to use an ethanol petrol blend.

A refuel of 50 litres at a price difference of 10 cents a litre between E10 and premium would cost an extra $5.   But this has to be kept in perspective with the overall cost of running a vehicle.

E85

You should not use E85 in any vehicle that is not designed for it. The only cars designed for E85 are the current model Holden Commodores that are so marked and the Saab Biofuel range.  For other vehicles, check the recommendation in the owner’s manual or check with the dealer or manufacturer and adopt their recommendation.

In our next blog, we’ll take a look at Diesel.

Do you use an ethanol petrol blend in your car? What affect has it had on your car’s performance and reliability?