As South Africans come to terms with increasing fuel prices, higher inflation and interest rates, running a vehicle has never been more expensive. This is true for a taxi, bus or private vehicle, says Petrocam CFO Ridwan Gany, and while the pressure isn’t likely to subside soon, there are steps, or quick hacks, we can all take to minimise running costs.
“We’ve all seen the memes and jokes on social media about the cost of running a vehicle in South Africa. The high fuel price is a massive risk for the entire economy – businesses rely on fleets, the transport sector in this country is mostly road-based and you and I need to get to work or the shops and back. With all the knock-on effects as the added costs are passed on to customers, you and I will pay more to get to the shop to pay more for goods,” he says.
There have been calls from various quarters for government to pass on some relief in how taxes are added built into the pump price, but until – or even if – such measures are taken, there are small things we can do that make a small difference, and small differences over a long time can have a big impact, says Gany.
Three hacks to happier driving habits
“If you are on a service plan, make sure that you stick to your service intervals. A well-maintained engine is very important to keep fuel consumption down. If you don’t, you’d be well-advised to stick to your maintenance schedule, especially the oil and filter changes. The quality of the engine lubricant, especially in newer vehicles that can take synthetic oils, makes an important difference in the efficiency of the engine, and therefore its fuel consumption,” says Gany. “Make sure you know exactly which grade your engine is designed to work with and stick to it.”
Simplistically speaking, lower viscosity means the engine can work more efficiently as the oil is easily pumped throughout the engine. A thicker lubricant requires the various moving parts to work harder, lowering efficiency and consumption.
Of course, says Gany, as with all things engineering, simple explanations don’t provide the full picture. In an older engine, a lubricant that is too thin may not provide enough protection which can increase wear, and thus affect the performance of the engine. Newer engines and their oil pumps are designed to operate with lower viscosity oils. Synthetic lubricants, he says, are particularly good in cold starts – the oil doesn’t need to warm up significantly for it to flow freely and protect the moving parts.
Beyond regular services and using the correct engine oil, Gany says there are a few other things in our control that all add up to better fuel economy.
“The first is your right foot. Accelerate calmly and don’t use high revs unnecessarily. When you are driving, keep your speed steady and don’t drive past the speed limit. Go through your car and boot, and don’t cart around unnecessary things like boxes of goods or anything that has a noticeable weight – it all adds up. If you are not going away soon, consider putting the roof rack away for now to reduce wind drag on the vehicle.
“Check your tyre pressure regularly. Beyond wearing incorrectly or quicker than normal, under-inflated tyres will increase your consumption by as much as 3% according to some estimates. Limit your idling. If you drive a car that shows real-time consumption, you will have noticed that idling uses more fuel than when you are driving normally,” says Gany.
He acknowledges that 2% or 3% increases in fuel economy here and there don’t look like much, but over time they certainly add up. “When read against the spectre of fuel prices increasing more during the course of the next few months many people will have no choice but to try to save wherever they can. Businesses that operate large fleets could save substantially on their fuel bill if they enforce a few of these interventions in their organisations.”