Are you a fuel fool, driven to distraction over how much it costs to fill up the car each week?

There are a dozen phone-based apps Queenslanders can consult to narrow down where the skids can be put under too-high fuel prices — at least if you happen to live in the south-east corner of the state.

And while many of us know them, apparently we don’t use them.

Research by comparison website, Finder, found that “petrol stress” typically affects eight percent of Aussies, down from a high of 14 per cent at the beginning of the year — before COVID-19 lockdowns obliged the family car to stay in the carport more often.

Queenslanders are the most stressed by petrol prices with just under one in every five (16 per cent) motorists stating the cost of fuel is parked among their most pressing financial concerns.

By comparison, just 12 per cent of New South Wales drivers reckon they are under the household budget pump.

And even though we’re behind the wheel less often during the COVID-19 pandemic, on average we tend to pour at least $95 a month into service station coffers.

In December 2018 a trial giving motorists access to up-to-date fuel prices was rolled out with fuel outlets given 30 minutes to let on to the Queensland Government that a change in price has happened.

In turn the intel is shared on apps ServoTrack, Simples Fuel, Vroom Fuel Price Compare, RACQ, Petrol Spy, Pumped, Petrol Buddy, MotorMouth, Fuel Map, Fuelify, ServoTrack and EzySt.

An independent assessment by Griffith University of the Government trial’s first year found a small, but statistically significant, decline in the average daily retail prices of ULP91, PULP and E10 petrol in the southeast Queensland corner since the trail started.

Bad news for anyone living elsewhere. The report found no statistically significant declines were noted in regions outside the metro corner. As well, no statistically significant changes were detected for diesel fuel prices.

So what are you missing out on by not using the apps. The research calculated that motorists who shopped around could have saved over a year $139 at the Gold Coast and Ipswich, $81 in Rockhampton, $66 in Mount Isa, $53.80 in Cairns, but up to $179 in Brisbane.

But that’s a big “could”, given that the department responsible for collecting the data reports Queensland drivers are now checking petrol prices on comparison apps and websites more than 600,000 times a month, compared to fewer than 350,000 previously.

This phenomenon doesn’t always convert to sales at the pump.

Griffith Business School senior lecturer, Associate Professor Parvinder Kler, who worked on the report, told Saved By Michelle that, although there was a huge uptake in the use of the apps, there are plenty of motorists who access the apps, but are not persuaded to change their buying behaviours.

“They are creatures of habit; they go back to the same spot,” Prof Kler said.

“And they probably they go back to the same spot because of convenience; because some petrol stations, for example, offer groceries; or you might be able to collect your dry-cleaning.

“Just having the access to it (petrol price information) doesn’t mean you are going to act on it; but it gives people the opportunity to act on it when prices are particularly high.”

Naturally enough, the fuel apps only make sense when there is competition.

Hunter MacDonald from Zillmere fills up at the 7-Eleven petrol station at Aspley - generally one of the cheapest petrol stations in Brisbane. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Hunter MacDonald from Zillmere fills up at the 7-Eleven petrol station at Aspley – generally one of the cheapest petrol stations in Brisbane. Picture: Liam Kidston.

Prof Kler says the university’s investigation discerned there was a lower take-up of the apps in regional areas.

“We put it down to there is a lack of petrol stations so there’s lack of competition,” he said.

“That is why access is lower in the regions. People find it pointless.”

A spokesperson for RACQ maintained that, even if there were only two local options, it was worth shopping around— on cost.

“The advice for regional centres is still to shop around and buy from the cheapest site, even if the difference is only a few cents,” she said.

“If more expensive sites lose business to cheaper ones, even if they are only marginally cheaper, it will drive competition and lower prices.

“This is arguably more important in areas of low competition as this is what will improve competition.”

Taylor Blackburn, insurance specialist at Finder, has big raps on not overlooking the fuel voucher offers typically found on the back of our grocery receipts.

“They might seem small, but you’ll be surprised how much you can save in the long run,” Mr Blackburn said.

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