Sick of putting your hand in your pocket every time you get in the car? Here are some options to cut the pain
IT SEEMS that each week the fuel price sign goes up faster than a politician’s pay packet.
It’s costing a small fortune just to get the kids to school, drive to work and do the usual run-around chores, let alone consider the luxury of a driving holiday. But now is not the time to make rash decisions, such as ditching the family car for a hybrid. Don’t panic. Sit down and rationally weigh up all the possibilities. There are quite a few.
According to the statistics, this seems the most popular choice.
Sales of family cars are in more trouble than a footballer on a night out. Meanwhile, sales of smaller cars are skyrocketing. The industry divides these into categories called medium (Camry, Accord, Mazda6), small (Corolla, Mazda3, Golf) and light (Yaris, Swift, Fiesta).
Even among the categories there is a wide range of prices.
You can buy a light car from as little as $11,990 (plus on-road costs) for the Chinese-made Chery, right up $35,990 for a Citroen DS3.
And you won’t go without. Some of the cheapest little cars these days come with a swag of safety and creature features.
PROS: Save on fuel; do the environment a favour; easier to park; nippier in traffic, and little hatches can be cavernous if you fold down the rear seats.
CONS: Cramped on long journeys; noisier on the highway; bumpier over potholes, and you could feel a little silly driving a Smurf car.
As in smaller car categories, the growth in diesel-powered vehicles is exponential.
Since the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries began collating separate figures for various fuel types in 2005, the number of diesel cars and SUVs more than doubled to 125,555 vehicles bought last year— one in every five new passenger cars or SUVs bought.
The reason: modern diesel engines are not only up to twice as frugal as a petrol vehicle, they often have cleaner emissions. Modern diesels are also quieter and there is no need to wait for a glow light to go out before starting them up.
But they are more difficult to build, so you pay more.
Some car companies charge up to $10,000 more for a diesel variant; most charge about an extra $2000. To reap the economic benefits you have to drive big kilometres each year and keep the vehicle longer.
The general rule of thumb to break even is 25,000km a year rather than the typical 15,000km and keeping the vehicle at least four years.
PROS: Almost double the fuel economy of a petrol equivalent; more torque means more go off the mark and easier driving around town; better towing capacity; marginally better resale value; lower CO emissions, and
2 diesel engines often last longer.
CONS: Fewer diesel pumps means queuing at the servo; oily bowser pumps leave your hands smelly; they still clatter at idle and sound raucous at full revs; it takes a long time to reap the economic benefits, and servicing charges can also be more expensive.
Let’s say you have decided to trade your family car or SUV for a city run-around and are happily reaping the rewards at the bowser every week, or more likely every second week.
However, at holiday time you regret your decision because you have to leave one of the kids behind— or the surfboard and the bikes.
If you only need a big car or an SUV for that once-a-year holiday, consider hiring.
There is a huge choice of hire vehicles out there.
You can really do it in by hiring a luxury moto or get a fully dressed SU you can tackle the Simp Desert. You can even hi rugged off-road caravan
PROS: Opens up you choice of holiday; you c yourself to a weekend in luxury convertible, orm neighbours envious roll in a German luxury sed even if it’s just once a ye
CONS: Can be expen most hire companies re you to return the vehicl place you got it, andmo companies tend to be lo in the bigger cities.
You don’t get much fro government these days almost worth it to conve petrol or diesel vehicle t
the bowser n style orhome, UV so pson ire a n. ur can treat na make the ling up dan, ear. nsive; equire le to the ost hire ocated omthe s but it’s vert your to LPG just to get up to $1750 in handouts from the Feds.
But you’d best be quick; the rebate drops to $1500 from July 1 then falls $250 a year.
Conversion rebates and subsidies are for private vehicles only. Switching over costs an average $2800 for pre2006 vehicles but about $4000 for newer vehicles because of emissions regulations.
If you buy a vehicle that is factory-fitted for LPG before its first registration, you get $2000 from Canberra. But choices of new vehicles with factory-fitted LPG systems are limited. Ford has a new LPG Falcon coming in July and has factory-fitted systems for some of its utes.
Holden has an Autogas dual-fuel injection system for Commodore and a mono-fuel LPG Commodore due this year. Toyota has a direct
Don’t panic. Rationally weighupthe possibilities injection LPG system for its 2.7-litre HiAce vans, and Mitsubishi has an aftermarket direct-injection system for its Challenger, Express Van, Pajero, Triton and its now defunct 380.
Cheaper fuel, government subsidies, LPG prices that are fairly static so
CASE STUDY: you don’t have to fill up on a Tuesday morning when servo prices are cheapest, and lower vehicle emissions.
Limited choice of new dual-fuel vehicles; only suitable for large vehicles; you lose boot space; even though they are safe they can develop minor smelly leaks; they add weight to the rear of the car affecting handling, and it can be difficult finding servos with LPG in the outback. These have petrol or diesel engines and electric motors powering the vehicle. You pay more for the two drive units.
As with diesels, you need to do big kilometres before the savings at the bowser recoup the extra purchase price.
Most hybrids switch off
HYBRID totally when you stop and run on electricity when you are driving slowly, so they are most economical in heavy traffic.
The benefits are negligible on country roads and highways, although when both drive units are operating under heavy acceleration they make a four-cylinder car feel like a six and a six like a V8.
They’re mainly bought by governments and big business who want to be seen as green. Taxi companies like hybrids because they do big distances.
Cheaper in traffic; good for the environment; you can be seen to be green; power on acceleration, and almost silent running on electric only.
Higher purchase price, models are limited, but you can choose from a small Prius to a large Porsche
CASE STUDY: Cayenne SUV, although some look odd— such as the Prius and Honda’s Insight.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES Again, the cost of EVs prevents all but governments and companies from buying them.
Most are only available on lease but prices will come crashing down in the next few years as more and more EVs become available in Australia.
While tailpipe emissions are zero, most of our electricity comes from burning coal, so the environmental advantage is reduced. Range is also nominally limited to about 160km but in real life it’s less, especially if you have a lead foot.
Very cheap to run; no tailpipe emissions;
PROS: almost silent running, and aerodynamic body shapes.
Most EVs end up looking like golf carts; expensive to buy (if you can find one to buy); silent running is a danger for pedestrians; limited range; battery disposal is an environmental issue, and long recharging time.
DRIVE ECONOMICALLY Plan trips better or make fewer trips, jettison excess weight, and get your car serviced more often. Vary driving behaviour — slow down, change to higher gears sooner, and avoid heavy braking and peak-hour traffic.