Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Fuel efficiency explained

At the very basic level, fuel-efficiency refers to the distance you can travel on a amount of fuel.

We’ve all heard the term fuel-efficient bandied about and although it’s a very common term when talking about cars, what exactly does it mean?

At the very basic level, fuel-efficiency refers to the distance you can travel on a amount of fuel. Let’s break it down.

  Car A Car B
Yearly driving average   14,750km   14,750km
Fuel economy   4-litres/100km  5-litres/100km
Litres required   590 litres  737 litres
Fuel cost for year (@ $1.25/litre) $737.50   $921.25

Even with a one-litre difference in fuel efficiency, the owner of Car B will need another 147 litres of fuel and spend an extra $183.75 than the owner of Car A. All that from an extra one-litre per 100km.

What qualifies as fuel efficient, then?

Anything that is listed as less than 6-litres/100km or more than 16.5km/1-litre is considered to be pretty good.

Fuel efficiency measurements 

The first (and most common) reference is litres per 100km (litres/100km). This is how many litres of fuel the car needs in order to travel 100km. You’ll often see it referred to as ‘fuel economy’. Rule of thumb on this one: the lower the number of litres stated, the better the fuel economy.

Not as frequently used in Australia, kilometres per litre (km/1-litre) is another way to look at a car’s fuel consumption. In this instance, the higher the number of kilometres travelled the more fuel-efficient.

Petrol vs diesel?

Petrol is the most widely-used fuel in Australia, however diesel is becoming more popular. In the last 10 years, diesel sales have almost doubled and the idea that diesel is reserved for dirty, smelly trucks has long gone.

Generally speaking, diesel engines are more fuel efficient than petrol engines. They use compression ignition (instead of spark plugs), which results in a more efficient fuel-burn. This requires a more high-tech engine design, which is one of the reasons why diesel cars cost more than petrol.

Modern diesel engines are often turbocharged and have a lot of pulling power (also known as torque). It can shift through gears more quickly than a petrol engine and runs at lower revs per minute. All of this means it uses less fuel at each stage than an equivalent petrol engine would.

What about LPG?

LPG presents many benefits, but strictly speaking, fuel economy is not one of them. In terms of cost, you’re getting a more economical deal with LPG but fuel consumption after an LPG conversion can increase by up to 40 per cent, so you’ll be filling up more often. However, LPG can be up to 60 per cent cheaper than petrol, litre for litre. So the consumption increase is more than covered by the cost savings.

Read More:

The lowdown on LPG

What kind of fuel do you use? Tell us your experience in the comments below.

View cars for sale
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.