Touring and How to Reduce Fuel Consumption
Dollar Bowser

Touring and travelling around Australia equates to covering vast distances under, at times, less than ideal road conditions.

A common scenario involves a large four wheel drive, dinghy strapped to the roof rack and a caravan in tow. The rear luggage compartment is often jammed with every conceivable appliance that may or may not be needed and the vehicle has every available 4WD accessory bolted on.

For most people the largest cost of any extended road trip is going to be fuel, whether it is diesel, petrol or LPG. Associated costs like food and accommodation come down to personal preference, thriftiness when shopping and choosing a five star hotel over a Roadside Camping area.

Reducing fuel consumption and keeping down costs requires a few different techniques compared to saving fuel while hopping around town.

Vehicle and Towing Choices
Choosing the Right Vehicle

Most people will already own the car they plan to take away with them but the lucky folk who plan on buying a vehicle purposely to tour with have the opportunity of saving from the start.

Car manufacturer fuel consumption and economy figures are notoriously unreliable in real world driving scenarios. Search out independent tests in the search for a new car.

Internet forums and people with first hand knowledge can be invaluable. Be mindful that when someone commits to a particular brand, they often feel a need to defend the choice rigoursly - even to the point of misrepresenting the facts. Faceless internet forums are rampant with people defending their buying choices.

Diesel, Petrol or LPG?

We went into this old chestnut in depth here and these days, although the results aren't so clear cut we would still choose diesel. Convenience and practicality may be stronger motivators in this choice than cost alone.

We would avoid choosing a dedicated LPG vehicle for touring the northern regions of Australia. The cost of LPG in remote areas (if you can get it) is disproportionately expensive compared to metropolitan prices.

Automatic Versus Manual Transmissions

The gap is closing but testing and consumer opinion still favour manual transmissions over automatic in the fuel consumption stakes.

Manual gearboxes are often slightly taller geared than automatics meaning that for a given speed they operate at a lower R.P.M. Higher engine revolutions use more fuel.

The proviso here is that a manual car needs to be be driven properly to return the best economy. 'Short Shifting' is the practise of changing down gears earlier in an effort to minimise engine revolutions (R.P.M.).

Choosing the Right Caravan or Camper Weight and Aerodynamics are Everything

Caravan designs are getting better but essentially they are still a big box on wheels. Big heavy boxes with poor aerodynamics eat fuel. Look for manufacturers who have gone to the trouble of streamlining their products and attempted to minimise weight.

A Two foot clearance above your head may be nice but it is also an awful lot of resistance punching into a highway headwind.

Camping Trailers generally ride lower than vans and weigh less, meaning they afford an opportunity to save on fuel.

More and more trailer builders are incorporating lightweight aluminium into their designs. Towing a well designed aluminium trailer is cheaper than towing a bloated steel heavyweight.

Pack Light - Pack Right

Do you really need to take it?

We delved into the merits of packing light for camping trips here and the same holds true for reducing fuel consumption. Every ounce of added weight costs you money at the fuel bowser.

The same is true of bolt on accessories. A rooftop dinghy should obviously face bow into the wind to reduce drag. If you can get away without carrying anything up top - some much the better.

Roofracks, even empty, create considerable drag and alter the aerodynamics of the car. Manufacturers go to considerable trouble to design vehicles that cut through the air by reducing resistance.

The nose of the vehicle is designed to drive air up and over the body. Bullbars, roo-bars and the associated front end accessories all combine to create drag and consume fuel.

Consider mounting large aerials and such towards the rear of the car.

Driving Methods, Maintenance Issues and Reducing Fuel Consumption

Machines are designed to run at their optimum. When a car or machine starts to degrade mechanically, the associated costs of keeping it running begin to rise. A properly maintained and serviced vehicle returns the best fuel consumption.

Things like properly greased and tensioned wheel bearings play a part in reducing friction and load. So do spark plus in A1 condition. Every little bit helps.

Air Cleaners and Air Filters

Air cleaners get a special mention because they can potentially save some real money. Engines are designed to run on a mixture of fuel and oxygen (from the atmosphere) and a clogged or dirty air filter has the potential to add 10% to your fuel costs.

Air Conditioners and Windows

Air conditioners are fuel monsters. They eat the stuff - up to 30% more. Don't use them unless you need to.

The downside is that windows that are wound down to help cooling also create drag and reduce the aerodynamic capabilities of the vehicle design. Tough world huh?


Your cars electronics contribute more to your fuel consumption than you may realise.

Headlights, thermo-electric fans, dual battery systems, big stereo and media systems, in-car fridges and all the other usual electrical suspects add to the load on the charging alternator. The alternator is directly connected to the engine and as load increases on the alternator, so load increase on the engine - resulting in more burnt fuel.

Get You Air Right

Correct tyre pressure is vital for fuel efficiency. Under inflated tyres provide greater surface area on the road resulting in more friction and resistance and consequently increased fuel use. All the reasons that deflated tyres provide better traction in boggy situations.

Get expert advice on the right tyre pressure for your car, tyres and estimated load and begin saving some real money.

Driving Smoothly and Braking Smoothly

Vehicles consume the most fuel under acceleration. Coasting is the most efficient method of reducing fuel consumption. Heavy braking requires increased acceleration to return to coasting speed. Scan the highway ahead and anticipate slowing conditions in order to reduce the need to brake.

Smooth consistent driving is the key to using less fuel. Don't stamp on the accelerator to gain speed. Increase speed gradually. Putting your foot flat to the boards usually sends a disproportionate amount of unburnt fuel down the exhaust rather than converting it to real acceleration.

Up shift gears in order to increase acceleration, especially up hills. Likewise increasing acceleration before reaching an incline can generate enough momentum to coast up and over the hill.

Driving in Four Wheel drive

Under certain conditions, engaging four wheel drive can increase fuel consumption by up to 40%. Don't use 4WD unless absolutely necessary.

Slip Streaming and Angel Gear

Slip Streaming is the art, as seen in Formula 1 racing, of tucking in behind the leading car and allowing it to 'drag' you through the air resulting in lower R.P.M. and greater fuel savings. While we're not advocating tailgating, the technique of sliding in behind a large road train and allowing it to buffer your ride is particularly cost effective.

Angel Gear is an old trucking term and involves coasting down hills without being engaged in gear. The neutral gearing means the engine turns at idling revolutions and uses the same amount of fuel as if it were sitting at traffic lights - not much. It also means the car is lacking control and freewheeling. We're not recommending it - just informing.

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