Smart Consumer: Do rocketing fuel prices spell RIP for SUVs?
It is possible to drive down spiralling motoring costs, writes Bill Tyson
The spiralling price of petrol means small is beautiful for Irish drivers -- who are also saving money by sucking diesel like never before.
The recession is bringing no respite for motorists, according to new AA figures.
As other prices fall all around, a medium-sized family car now costs a massive €11,817 a year to run -- 6% more than last year -- the latest AA survey shows.
This spike has been fuelled almost entirely by the soaring cost of oil.
Petrol prices shot up by 12% to nearly 152c a litre for petrol in the 12 months to the end of June.
This is not a temporary phenomenon. Although recession fears have brought prices down in recent days, they are almost certain to shoot up again soon.
However, you can save yourself a fortune by changing what your drive -- and the way you drive it.
Keep your car on the road with our quick Q&A guide to cheaper motoring!
Should we buy smaller cars?
We already are. Seventy per cent of new cars are now Fiesta-sized or smaller. And more of us are buying cars with diesel engines.
I thought diesels drove and sounded like Russian tanks?
They did. But new technology driven by emissions regulation has transformed diesel engines to a point where there is hardly any difference in performance -- but you will cut your fuel costs by around a third.
What about biofuels?
Bio Fuel or PBO (Pure Plant Oil) comes from rapeseed, soybean, palm oil, algae etc. With some slight modifications, a diesel engine can use either diesel or PPO Biofuel. It's also carbon neutral and will not belch CO2 into the air.
Where can I get them?
PPO Biofuel is locally produced in a number of mills around the country and is guaranteed Irish. However, it must be bought in bulk and stored by you.
What about electric cars?
Not the answer -- so far anyway. Up to the end of July, just 36 electric cars had been registered despite a €5,000 government grant for buying one.
Why so few takers?
The current cost of over €29,000 -- even after the grant -- is prohibitive and there are few places to charge up. However, all that is set to change. The Government is committed to providing 1,500 charging points by year-end and prices are set to tumble.
Early next year, the Renault Fluence ZE will have a price tag of €21,620. However, you will also have to pay €79 a month to lease the battery.
Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of electric cars -- to save you money?
Actually, there would still be a considerable saving to be made -- even for average-mileage motorists. Electric car makers claim to save 80% of your fuel costs -- or over €2,160 a year on average. Over eight years, you would save €17,280, which equates to the entire cost of leasing the battery and nearly half the cost of the car.
How long does it take to charge?
Half an hour's charging will give 80% battery power.
What about 'range anxiety'?
Ranges of 120km-180km are fine for commuting and around town, but long journeys will clearly set nerves on edge.
Hopefully this will be reduced by 1,500 charging points that the Government is committed to installing by the end of the year. (The first 2,000 electric car owners will also get domestic charging points installed free by the ESB.)
What about hybrid cars? Aren't they a better option?
At the moment -- yes. No 'range anxiety' here! You can switch to conventional fuels when needed. You can also buy them on the second-hand market.
A 2005 Toyota Prius costs around six grand and will "easily" get you 55 miles per gallon, according to one online seller.
For its latest model -- which has even greater fuel efficiency --Toyota boasts 72 mpg -- and a motor-tax bill to match from just €104 per year.
The Prius looks good and is the pioneer and flag-bearer for hybrid technology. Although some were recalled with steering problems last year, it has also won the North American Car of the Year and European Car of the Year.