Perhaps the greatest variable in the running costs of a vehicle is fuel expense. Unless you have the luxury of driving an electric vehicle, there is no easy way around that constant fill up at the bowser – where the price you pay is more or less a lottery draw.
A recent study found that 89% of Australian motorists believe they are paying too much for their fuel, while up to 60% of drivers admit they follow price cycles closely to try and avoid paying more they need to.
In news that might bring some relief to motorists, a report earlier this year from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that average fuel prices were at their lowest level in 15 years. But as ACCC Chairman Rod Sims explained drivers should be seeing greater savings when they fill up at the pump.
“While motorists are enjoying the cheapest petrol since 2002, we believe prices should have been even lower given the continuing high gross retail margins,” he said.
“Prices at the pump in 2016-17 are reflecting the relatively low international price of refined petrol which fortunately is a result of the OPEC cartel failing to successfully restrict the supply of crude oil,”
But rather than wait for market changes to filter their way down to a consumer level, there are many savings that motorists can take advantage of today if they are willing to do their homework. AfMA roadtested five of the most popular free fuel-saving apps and websites to see which ones provided the most reliable savings for drivers.
Launched in 2016. the 7-Eleven Fuel app allows users to instantly search for the best fuel price from their 5 nearest locations and “lock in” the price for up to 7 days. Customers can then head to any 7-Eleven outlet to redeem that price per litre on their fuel.
The popularity of the app has already seen it downloaded to more than 500,000 devices around Australia, with drivers able to redeem vouchers for a minimum of 10 litres up to 150 litres.
A 7-Eleven spokesperson earlier this year said that the app had so far saved customers over $1 million within its first 12 months of operation.
“Nearly 4.5 million searches for the best local price have been made over the last twelve months through the 7-Eleven Fuel App, with around 20,000 searches a day being made this year,” they said.
- Drivers have more flexibility to get fuel when they need it at their preferred price.
- It is a fairly simple process to set up an account and to begin scanning for the best prices.
- The app is very responsive, fast and user-friendly.
- The fuel lock is only valid for that registered user and isn’t transferrable.
- In rare cases some consumers have claimed that some 7-Eleven outlets won’t accept the app vouchers, leaving them forced to pay at the regular price.
- Customers must have a reloadable 7-Eleven Card set up to pay for the fuel which might not be suitable for a lot of individuals or businesses.
Final Word: If you are already filling up at 7-Eleven petrol stations, then the app will provide some long-term benefits. However, if your fuelling habits vary it may not be worth the effort required to get the discounts.
Also launched here in 2016 was the aptly named GasBuddy. The app has over 15 million active monthly users in the United States and Canada, with Australia the first country outside those regions to have access to it.
Central to its premise is the idea that users are part of a wider community that works together to “outsmart the pump”. Users are encouraged to report live prices directly to the app and are in turn rewarded for their contributions with points, fuel discounts or financial remuneration.
“Petrol prices vary greatly even within a small distance and has long been a pain point for Aussies,” said Nic Moulis, country manager of GasBuddy Australia.
“GasBuddy is a game changer because it takes the mystery out of fuel cost, puts the power back to the consumer and provides the information needed for motorists to avoid overpaying at the bowser.”
- The user-based contribution system is a great way to source regular real-time prices
- The interface is easy-to-use and worked well for our tests within the inner-Melbourne area.
- Having a rewards system encourages strong community engagement
- Requires a large community of users to work effectively, so its use in rural or isolated areas would be somewhat limited.
- The app features quite a lot of advertising within it, which does distract a little from its functionalities.
- As the app is a somewhat open-source community, the prices provided may not always be 100% reliable or accurate.
Final Word: GasBuddy does what it promises well for the most part and as the community grows so too will its overall usefulness and accuracy. The excess advertising is a bit of an issue, so a paid version of the app that removes all of that would be a massive help.
MotorMouth reports prices for around 4,500 Australian service stations each day, with more sites being added daily as new users discover the app and share the prices they see around them.
The system uses a colour coded map system which users can click to “Price Reveal” each individual petrol station, along with the ability to see a reporting price graph of the last 60 days. Users are encouraged to provide updates when they are within 1km of a service station and receive regular rewards for doing so.
“Our online research, created to establish consumer views and attitudes on petrol pricing, showed 87% of users had changed their petrol purchasing habits as a result of using MotorMouth,” a spokesperson for MotorMouth said.
“Our core objective is to provide unbiased information to Australian motorists so that you can make an informed decision with regards to petrol purchasing. We do not seek to affect fuel prices but rather to provide a snapshot of prices so that you can make meaningful comparisons.”
- The colour temperature gauge system (green to red) makes it easy to get an idea which petrol stations are cheapest by looking over the map.
- The reporting graph function is a good way to identify long term trends.
- The ability to add up-to-date information for other users is quite helpful.
- The app was a little buggy when tested on a Samsung S7 Android device.
- Having to manually click on each station to get the price is a little tedious.
- Users only have access to 30 ‘Price Reveals’ each week.
Final Word: The biggest issue with MotorMouth is the limitation of “Price Reveals”. While it is somewhat understandable that the company doesn’t want to reveal all of its intellectual property to everyone, the restrictions may seem a little counter-intuitive to what is available on other apps.
Launched in August 2016 by the NSW government, Fuel Check acts as an independent monitoring regulator of fuel prices throughout NSW.
FuelCheck uses information from cellular, Wi-Fi, and Global Positioning System (GPS) networks to determine your approximate location. To find your nearest service station, or your current distance from a particular service station, you must enable Location Services on your device/browser and give FuelCheck permission to use your location data.
“By giving motorists a bird’s-eye view of the market they can find the cheapest fuel anywhere in the state, providing them with much needed relief at the hip pocket,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
“This app is a game changer for motorists and enables them to find the best deal by price, location, fuel type and brand,”
- The best feature on this by far is “My Trip”, which helps you locate the cheapest petrol on a journey between two locations.
- The trends segment provides accurate data of overall fuel prices from the last week, month and year.
- The interface is quite refined and very user-friendly.
- In our tests, the app seemed to send a lot of notifications to our device which while helpful could become annoying over time.
- Price changes can take time to sync with data from the website which can be frustrating.
- At times it was a little difficult to zoom in and out and scroll across regions with the map.
Final Word: This app would be a welcome addition to any NSW resident’s smartphone. The team behind it have definitely got the balance of features and ease-of-use just right and with a few more refinements this app would be an outright winner. Other states should be looking to replicate what the NSW government has achieved with this app.
The RACV app has been around for a while now and has been installed on over 50,000 devices within Victoria. More of an all-rounder rather than a dedicated fuel watching tool, the RACV app is a one stop shop for members to use when they are out about for fleet or personal tasks.
“From instant access to locally relevant RACV discounts and special offers, to the inside information on local fuel prices that can save you money every time you fill up, the RACV app is an essential new tool when you are on the road,” an RACV spokesperson said.
“The new RACV app combines all the benefits of RACV membership with new money and time-saving tools, all in the palm of your hand.”
- The fuel watch section is quite intuitive compared with its competitors and offers a very easy way to check prices within the user’s local area.
- The overall looks is fairly refined and the map syncs well with Google Maps for directions.
- RACV is renowned for their accuracy in reporting fuel data, so motorists can have confidence in their reporting.
- Fuel prices don’t automatically appear on the map, users have to click on each icon individually.
- The fuel watch is only a small segment of a larger RACV app, so it has slightly limited features compared with standalone devices.
- There is no way for users to record any prices that they see, so they are very reliant on RACV’s reporting methods rather than through other users.
Final Word: RACV members in Victoria are going to get a lot of value out of this app through its vast array of general features, while non-members may find the app slightly less appropriate for their needs. A stand-alone fuel watch app from the RACV would definitely be welcomed.