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Saving money downsizing, LPG, hybrids and diesels

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    The Hyundai i30cw's 1.6-litre turbo-diesel sips just 4.9L/100km on the combined cycle.

Mark Hinchliffe looks at the way four families have cut their fuel bills.

The spiralling petrol prices mean fuelling a family car like a Commodore or Falcon now accounts for 2.6 per cent of average weekly earnings. But you don't have to sit back and take it in the hip pocket. These families have all taken different approaches to reducing their fuel bills.

DOWNSIZING

Their 2000 Falcon was costing the Andrew family of Brisbane a small fortune to keep running, so they decided to downsize.

However, instead of buying one vehicle, they went for two Suzukis, the cutesy Swift and the three-cylinder ultra-frugal Alto.

Warren, 47, says the Falcon had a 65-litre tank while the combined tanks of the Swift and Alto are 77 litres. "We now get twice as many kilometres from the same expenditure on fuel," he says. Though it has to be noted that the additional cost of registering and maintaining a second car would probably offset any real cost advantage.

His wife, Karen, 43, says having two small cars is more versatile for transporting their children Jess, 12, and Emily, 10, to and from primary and secondary schools. We don't miss the Falcon in the least; maybe we will when we go on holidays," she says.

"It's been great. Having the two cars means we can take a child separately - one to primary and one at high school. The Swift is really cool. The Alto is a good little runabout but I enjoy driving the Swift. We drive whoever's car is at the back. Warren tends to take the Swift. I think he deliberately leaves it at the back.

"We fill them with petrol every couple of weeks and we can squeeze into smaller parking places. "Jess and Emily love the cars more than the Falcon. They say it's my car'."

LPG

Retirees John and Lesley Braggs planned to become grey nomads so they bought a 2003 BMW X5 V8 petrol a few years ago. "You wouldn't get much change out of $120 when you filled it up," he says.

About eight months ago they converted it to a dual-fuel petrol/LPG system. "We were travelling around a lot going down to Melbourne and back and have plans to travel to Adelaide and Alice Springs," he says.

"We only put about 20 bucks a month of petrol into it because it starts up on petrol and then a few seconds later the gas kicks in. "The petrol also kicks in if you run low on

LPG but we never run low and need to use it. I only ever have about a quarter of a tank of petrol, otherwise it's excess weight we don't need."

He says he hasn't noticed any change in performance. "It seems to have the same amount of power as when it's running on petrol I reckon," he says. They had a 70-litre LPG tank installed where the spare tyre was located under the cargo floor so they didn't lose any luggage space. "I carry around a pressure pack in case we have a puncture," he says.

The LPG installation cost about $4500 with the government rebate. "I'm really wrapped with it. There is nothing different with the performance and it's cheap," he says.

"LPG is currently about 70c a litre. When we first got it, it was about 40c a litre, but it's still cheap."

HYBRID

The Knights have discovered another benefit of their fuel-efficient Toyota Prius with the recent birth of their son, Thomas.

"Now that we have the baby we don't have the radio on and we can tell how quiet it is," Tanya says. "It's a bit disconcerting sometimes when it kicks into electric." Tanya and husband Stephen bought the Prius two years ago.

"We were in the market for a new car and wanted to be as fuel efficient and environmentally conscious as possible," she says. "We came from a Falcon with LPG so I didn't want to go to a petrol car and pay X number of hundred dollars to fill it.

"We found the LPG wasn't particularly fuel efficient. It guzzled the fuel, but it was half the price. "Now I fill up maybe once every three to four weeks on a 60km daily round trip to school and home. "With highway driving, I can get over 1000km on one 40-litre tank of fuel which is amazing. We're really happy with it and wouldn't go to a petrol-only car ever."

Mrs Knight says the Prius is a bit quirky in design and function. "But once you get used to it, it's interesting," she says. "People are astonished. They say the car has turned off."

She also defends the Prius as a family car. "It's actually a reasonable size car. We get the baby capsule in and there is plenty of space for other people, she says. "My dad used to run taxis and many in the industry are going to hybrid cars."

DIESEL

The Webbs were a bit skeptical about diesels when they went to test the Hyundai i30cw CRDi wagon. But Adam and Katie Webb of Brisbane were pleasantly surprised. "My only experience of a diesel was my mate's old diesel HiLux which chugs and smokes," says Adam. "I had done some research and knew a bit about the new turbo diesels but my wife was especially concerned about the noise and smoke of them.

"However, when I took it for a test drive I was surprised. For a 1.6 (litre engine) when you put your foot down it really takes off. "It's really quiet. Especially on the highway you hardly notice you are driving a diesel. "There's still a bit of noise when you start it up. You know it's a diesel, but it's a lot smoother and quieter than we thought."

The Webbs traded in their 1996 Magna wagon three months ago. "We pretty much downgraded in size, but there is still plenty of space," he says. "Me, my wife and the two kids all fit in quite well and when you have a couple of kids their stuff takes up a lot of boot space."

The burning question is fuel economy. "We bought it just for the fuel efficiency," he says. "I'm not too sure on the actual economy figures but we drove about 600km to Rainbow Beach and back last weekend and there's still about a quarter of a tank left."

He rejected concerns about limited and dirty diesel bowsers. "My wife drives it more than I do and she hasn't had any problems finding a boswer," he says. "Hyundai supply 10 disposable gloves with the car to use when filling up, but we've never used them."

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