PAIN AT THE PUMP
How car owners can beat the jaw-dropping fuel price increases
Over the past 20 years, car ownership has flourished in South Africa with more than 7.6 million cars and station wagons registered with eNatis as of June last year. However, the startling increase in fuel prices over the past 18 months means that the cost of driving has increased significantly.
In January 2021, the price per litre of 95 unleaded in Gauteng was R14.86 a litre and now it is R24.17 a litre, reflecting a whopping 62% increase in 18 months. Annabel Bishop, the chief economist at Investec, warns that rising oil prices may see the fuel price going up by another R3 in July, increasing pressure on motorists.
Ernest North, the co-founder of digital insurance platform Naked, says that with the South African Reserve Bank expected to raise interest rates several times during the year and fuel prices on the rise, you need to think carefully about the affordability of the car you drive.
“As a simple example, if you drive a modest and relatively fuel-efficient sedan car with a fuel efficiency of around 15 kilometres to a litre (that’s 6.65 litres per 100km) and drive an average of 1,500 kilometres per month, your petrol cost could rise to as much as R2,993 if the petrol price hits R30,” he says, adding that costs are likely to be much worse if you drive an older SUV or 4×4.
“The bad news is that it’s not just fuel prices and interest rates that are likely to rise — in the current inflationary environment, we may see insurance, maintenance and repair costs climb steeply too. I’d advise car owners to investigate the fuel efficiency of any vehicle they’d like to buy and leave a comfortable cushion in their budget to accommodate rising costs and further fuel increases in the year ahead.”
Using the example of a fairly modest 2021 VW Polo 1.4, North says you should budget about 2.5% of your car’s value each year for expendable maintenance such as brake pads, windscreen wipers and tyres, which works out to about R500 a month or R6,000 a year.
While a 2021 car is still likely to be on a service plan, car owners with no service plan need to budget for at least one service a year, which means another R3,000 to R10,000 a year, depending on the car you drive. The amount you’ll need to budget is purely dependent on the car you have and its mileage. If we go back to the VW Polo 1.4, a service at 75,000km will cost you about R1,800 and a service at 90,000km will cost you about R2,900.
Then you also have to prepare for unscheduled maintenance, which could include things like a snapped cambelt, a new clutch or a cooling system, any one of which could run into thousands of rands.
“Assuming you don’t have a maintenance or warranty plan, it’s recommended that you should budget for at least one incident per year that will roughly cost 6.5% of the car’s value. For the Polo, that works out to around R1,250 per month,” North says.
A quick search on the Naked website reveals that insurance on the VW Polo would be R472 a month. This premium will vary depending on the individual driver’s history, age and location. All of the above costs added up mean that the monthly running costs for the VW Polo 1.4 based on a monthly mileage of 1,500km and a petrol price of R30 a litre, will work out to almost R5,500 a month. And that’s excluding any vehicle finance repayment.
Monthly running costs on a VW Polo 1.4
The above scenario merely highlights that the costs of owning a car have soared exponentially. There are some steps you can take to mitigate the costs.
Over the next year, households may consider downsizing from two cars to one, with spouses sharing transport in the mornings and afternoons. Parents with schoolgoing children could look at starting a lift club for children in the same neighbourhood attending the same school.
The way you drive can have an immediate effect on your petrol consumption. The AA recommends the following:
- Stick to the speed limits. Driving at 100km/hour will use less fuel than driving at 120km/hour.
- Avoid harsh acceleration. Pull away from traffic lights or stop streets slowly and gradually.
- Maintain a safe following distance. This will allow you to travel at a more constant speed and avoid harsh braking.
- Save fuel by making your car’s momentum work for you. Build up speed before an uphill stretch, and when you crest a hill, take your foot off the accelerator pedal and use your car’s momentum to get you over.
- Switch the aircon off. Although you are less likely to use your aircon in the winter months ahead, try to avoid turning it on more often in summer.
- Don’t overload your car. This forces the engine to work harder, using more fuel in the process. Pack lightly and remember to remove unused heavy items like bike racks or roof racks from your car when not in use.
- Reduce idling time. Try not to let your car idle for more than 30 seconds — rather switch it off.
- Avoid short trips. Trips of two kilometres or less use more fuel than longer trips. Even more so if your car’s engine is cold. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.
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