/ Motoring, Technology

Your smartphone can help keep fuel costs down

Three petrol pumps on a green background

Like many people, the festive season involves once-yearly trips around the country to visit relatives.  I’m always on the look out for ways to cut my motoring costs, so I’ve given fuel apps a quick test drive…

One way of keeping driving costs down is to use a smartphone app to locate the cheapest fuel. At Which?, we’ve tested three of them to find out if they are accurate and can save motorists money.

Even though the most expensive of the three apps we tested cost £2.99, our quick test proved that it’s possible to save more than that on the first fill-up, so they may be a worthwhile investment.

Being frugal with fuel

To work out if I could cut my Christmas motoring costs, I checked the price of unleaded petrol on a couple of fuel price apps using Fuelsmart UK, Petrol Finder and Petrol Prices Pro.

The Fuelsmart app cost 69p to download and was good at showing the cheapest local stations. However, the prices stated weren’t always accurate, probably because it relies on users to input the price of fuel at service stations.

In contrast, Petrol Prices Pro was fairly good at giving the right prices – it got 27 out of 41 petrol and diesel prices correct. However, it only shows the five cheapest filling stations, so the nearest to your home may not be listed.

Petrol Finder was the least useful app, as it simply provides a long list of service stations ordered randomly, many of which were more than 20 miles from the testers’ locations.

With the cheapest unleaded petrol costing 128.9p per litre near my south London home, I filled up before I headed down to see relatives in Basingstoke. The cheapest unleaded there is 131.9p, so I saved £1.50 filling up my car’s 50-litre tank.

Cheapest place to fill up

As a one-off, this may not sound like a massive saving. But by working out the cheapest place to fill up before trips to Bristol, Norfolk and Hertford, as well as short local trips, I reckon I’ll save more than £20.That’s not too bad for a few minutes’ work.

You could save even more cash by checking prices online rather than paying for an app. But I travel a lot, and like the flexibility of being able to check prices wherever I am.

So this year I managed to save money by checking pump prices before I set off. What measures have you taken to save on motoring costs over Christmas?

How do you find the lowest fuel prices?

I look out for fuel prices when I'm driving (53%, 92 Votes)

I check fuel prices online (32%, 56 Votes)

Other (10%, 17 Votes)

I check fuel prices with a smartphone app (5%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 173

Loading ... Loading ...

Being probably the only person on the planet who still doesn’t have a mobile, I have to make do with my Mark 1 eyeball. It’s certainly cheaper than a mobile phone to run.

Petrol near me last time I checked ( last week was 133.9 ) at my parents 129.9. Its odd how the prices can fluctuate that much.

Peter says:
28 December 2012

Petrol Prices.com comes to me weekly in an email and is also available as a ‘phone app.
You tailor it to your choice of fuel, and search by post code, so it will always show the nearest fuel stations to your chosen code. And it’s free.

I use PetrolPrices.com too. On average, we save between 4p or 5p per litre at every fill up. We get the regular emails showing the lowest prices for our area and then pop in for a fillup when convenient. We never make a special trip just for fuel. It’s a significant saving over the year.

I cannot be bothered to chase around looking for cheaper fuel.

Not using the car or combining journeys saves a lot more. I don’t need a smartphone to tell me that.

No one suggested that using the car less and combing journeys doesn’t save money. We are discussing Apps that find the cheapest convenient fuel price that saves money even on ‘combined journeys’.

We know you are a techno luddite so we do not need constant reminders. Please limit your posts to sensible contributions rather than constantly attacking the technology.

As someone who has taken a laptop and a tablet away for the Christmas break and spent time sorting out various problems for my nieces, nephews, etc I certainly don’t avoid technology. I just can’t be bothered to shop around. The fuel prices are all very similar near where I live.

Hi Terfar, just a little reminder of our commenting guidelines – discussion and strong views are very welcome but please be kind to one another when having a healthy debate.

Exactly, wavechange. I do everything wrong – wait until nearly empty then fill up, use more expensive diesel (Shell) because the additives are recommended for engine longevity, and as the prices in my area differ by around 2 p a litre, what’s the point in driving round to save £1.40 – or less. Does the app tell you how much extra fuel you’ll use getting to the cheapest station? But I do drive fairly carefully to make the fuel go a bit further. I do miss the days when someone filled your car up for you – when did progress kill that off? Fuel stations can be very cold wet and draughty in winter.

I think you’re missing the point. The purpose of the Apps is to provide you with a list of the cheapest refuelling point in your LOCAL area, not to encourage you to drive miles out of your way to find the cheapest fuel. And if you are away from home, the GPS receiver will see your current location and the App will list the nearest garages with prices.

Driving 4 miles there, and 4 back, to a cheaper fuel station uses up a 2p advantage for my car. Just making the point that is it worth a relatively small saving, unless it just happens to be on my route. By driving sensibly and carefully I can save up to 10% on my fuel consumption – effectively 14p a litre – worth the effort.

Highland John says:
28 December 2012

Clairo Evano tops up her 50 litre fuel tank with £129.9 litre fuel instead of £131.9 thus a saving of £1.50 hardly the £6 odd she claimed. Why is this ?

Maybe Which? would do better looking for a smartphone app that does basic maths … or pencil and paper.

Jim Kenney says:
10 January 2013

maybe 4 journeys to the relatives? you’d be daft not to make use of it every time. Besides, isn’t this meant to be commenting on the informative advice on the useful money saving apps? Thanks for the info Claire – I was thinking apps were just pointless gimmicks but this is great news for those of us that do a lot of mileage – at 3p per litre you just saved me over £100 a year. I’ll not say no to that!! Hey Em,you could buy a lot of pens & paper with the savings?

I think you mean 128.9p & 131.9p not £129.9 and £131.9, could someone correct Highland Johns post and then delete this one. Thanks

Interesting observation nonetheless.

Jayne Samuel-Walker says:
2 January 2013

I use WhatGas Petrol Prices Pro for Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.whatgas.androidpro) which shows the petrol prices on a map and shows your rough distance to the filling stations to balance the cost of driving the extra four miles to saving 0.5p per litre.

The latest OFT report says there is fair competition in fuel pricing. They also obscure the issue by talking about pre-tax and pre-duty prices being cheaper than parts of Europe – which is irrelevant to the UK competition issue.
Many challenge their findings – I don’t know if they published a graph showing how retail price changes follow wholesale price changes but that would help deal with the view that prices rise quickly but fall slowly.

However, since many of us can buy fuel from a number of outlets – including supermarkets – if we feel strongly enough that certain suppliers are not being fair then we can vote with out feet (or wheels) and boycott them. I suspect if enough did so we would see a change in attitude. But would enough bother to do that? Does it need a list of lower cost outlets in each area from Which?

I’m not sure that it would be best use of resources for Which? to make a list of lower cost fuel outlets, which would obviously have to be kept up-to-date to be useful. I think it’s enough that Which? has alerted us to the variations in fuel prices and mentioned apps as a new way of keeping a check on prices.

Not publishing wholesale prices is something the AA have said they’ll keep campaigning on.

Makes you wonder exactly who the OFT are supposed to be working for. ‘Cos it doesn’t seem to be the consumer.

Yes, I like the idea of a motoring organisation campaigning about fuel costs. Let them do that and we can get on complaining about motoring organisations hiking annual renewal costs. 🙂

Always worth exploring the idea, I’ll pass it on to the Cars team.

wavechane – I’m sure you are right. I think my main point was just how concerned are we to actually do something about prices, rather than just moan about them!

In retrospect I do think Which could play a part in helping exert pressure. As a Consumers’ Association its remit must be to publiish information, exert pressure on authorities and suppliers but also to assist its members – the consumers and its financial supporters – in themselves exerting pressure. Having members supply updated lowest prices for fuel in their area could operate in much the same way as Which Local publicises suppliers of all descriptions – need not be a huge burden need it? Is it unmanageable Which?

Alternatively, an automated system could be used to collect up-to-date prices for fuel prices and possibly other data. Hopefully Which? could do a better job than some price comparison sites.

It’s not necessarily unmanageable or even unimaginable. I’ll share you ideas. You can talk about the OFT’s report on our latest Convo: https://conversation.which.co.uk/transport-travel/oft-petrol-diesel-fuel-prices-competition/

It is not necessary for Which? or any other independent body to collect prices and try to keep them up to date. We just need Which? to campaign for the government to set up an offical website, which every petrol retailer is obliged to update with their current fuel prices. Job done.

A la française: http://www.prix-carburants.gouv.fr/

I use this to find cheap supermarket fuel just off the Autoroutes. Prices are not always spot on, but close enough to find the best place to refuel out of a choice of several.