If road trips are your thing then there is a fair chance that doing ‘the big lap’ is something you are either planning to do or at least dreaming of doing one day.
When we did our Big Lap there were three areas that we spent the majority of our money on:
These are the 'big ones' and so any significant change in these three costs is going to make a considerable difference to your budget.
Over the past few years we’ve seen the price of sites in caravan parks steadily rise to the point where some of us feel it's getting ridiculous.
When you are paying $56 a night for an unpowered site that is mostly dirt in a caravan park in Mt Isa (like we did 18 months ago) then you know things have gotten out of control!
This ever increasing accommodation cost is resulting in more of us seeking out free and low cost alternatives but that is the subject for another article.
Food also has increased steadily over the years, although nothing like the sharp increase in caravan park costs.
Nevertheless the trend is upwards.
But to everyone’s surprise, the cost of fuel is now the lowest it has been at virtually any time in the last 10 years.
As I write this article, diesel is around $1.08 per litre at my nearest service station here in Melbourne which is a good 12 cents per litre lower than the average of any of the last 10 years - see chart below.
Why are fuel prices falling?
The current crude oil price is USD$37 a barrel compared with USD$114 per barrel at the end of 2014.
This drop is being caused by a glut of oil of around 1.2 million barrels per day currently flooding into the market.
Saudia Arabia is keeping oil prices low to reduce the competition from the USA and Canada’s shale oil and oil sands businesses.
Additionally, sanctions have recently been lifted from Iran and they are aiming to boost their production by at least half a million barrels a day.
Westpac’s view is that the price per barrel could drop further but will likely stabilise around the current levels.
So this is a fair indication that petrol and diesel prices are not likely to rise significantly any time soon and may even fall further.
I always imagined that as oil reserves steadily dwindled into the future and alternative energy sources gained momentum, that the price of fuel would keep going up and up - the rationale being that the Saudi's and other oil producers would extract maximum dollar for what they had left to sell.
It seems for now at least that the opposite is true. That they are dropping the price to keep us addicted to the stuff and reduce our need to find alternatives.
Not great for the planet overall but better for our wallet in the short term.
What does this mean for us road trippers?
Lower fuel prices are great news for those of us planning road trips, especially on the scale of 'the big lap'.
But exactly how much less would you spend on fuel doing the big lap at these prices compared with say 5 or 10 years ago?
With fuel being such a big component of your overall budget, the difference is bound to be significant.
So lets break it down:
If you stuck to Highway One all the way around Australia, you’d travel about 16,000km.
But how boring would that be?!
On our Big Lap we detoured into the Red Centre, up to Cobourg Peninsula, Cape York, Tassie and outback NSW and in total we travelled 46,600 km, so an extra 30,000 km.
This is what our 46,600km trip looks like on a map of Australia.
For the sake of this exercise though, I’ll use a distance of 40,000km as a good average.
Litres Per 100km:
Our turbo diesel 80 Series Landcruiser averages around 17-18 litres per 100 km when it’s loaded up, towing the camper trailer and travelling mostly on open roads.
Not too bad compared with a petrol version but not nearly as good as a newer model diesel vehicle that would more likely use around 12 litres per 100 km to do the same job.
For this exercise, I’ve done the sums from 10 litres/100 through to 25 litres/100 so your vehicle should fit somewhere on that scale.
Remote fuel loading:
The chart above shows the average retail price of diesel for each state and nationally but we can assume that the vast majority of service stations that go into making the average are in cities where the price is at the lowest end of the scale.
The more remote fuel stations that have significantly higher prices per litre would not be making a significant impact on the state or national average as there are not many of them overall.
For us however, when doing the big lap, we will spend most of our time in remoter areas away from cities so the average for us will be higher than the national average.
From our experience, we spent on average 30 cents per litre more than the best city price - so if the city price was $1.30 and the outback ‘worst case’ price was $2.20, we averaged about $1.60 for the entire trip.
Everyone’s experience will be different here and your capacity to carry more fuel on board will help you to reduce the amount of fuel you need to buy at remoter stops and bring down your overall average.
ARTICLE: Do you need a long range fuel tank?
So for this exercise I’m going to assume an extra 30 cents per litre more than the national averages in the chart above.
So here’s what we are assuming:
Distance: 40,000 km
Litres per 100km: Scale from 10 to 25
Fuel type: Diesel
Fuel price: Assuming it remains at current level for 2016
Remote loading: 30 cents above national average
Using my 80 Series Landcruiser as an example at 18 litres per 100km, in 2011 we would have spent around $12,888 on diesel and in 2016 we’d spend around $10,080, so a difference of around $2800 for the same trip.
That’s quite a difference!
What is also interesting is for me to compare how much less I’d spend with a newer and more economical vehicle . . . I’d spend $5620 less if I had a vehicle that could average 12 litres per 100km instead of my current 18 litres per 100.
It’s a good reminder of the need to focus on reducing your fuel consumption any way that you can.
What about you? Do the current low fuel prices give you one more reason to start planning your big lap of Australia?