Buying petrol at BP or Coles Express service stations? You’re probably paying too much and could save hundreds of dollars by switching servos.
That’s according to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims, who said there’s $485 million in savings on offer across Australia’s five largest capitals for motorists who are willing to shop around.
“The range of petrol prices available to most Australian motorists means the potential savings from filling up at one of the cheaper retailers are very significant,” Mr Sims said this week.
The ACCC just published its latest annual petrol report, finding smaller independent retailers are once again offering the best bowser prices.
The gap between the big chains and smaller players is growing, too.
The lowest-priced stations were 11.4 cents cheaper than the highest-priced chains in 2020. That’s compared to 8.4 cents per litre in 2019 – up a solid 26 per cent.
It means motorists in Sydney could save up to $445 a year by filling up at the lowest-price stations, while those in Melbourne could net $317.
There’s also $174 in savings available in Brisbane, $330 in Adelaide, $216 in Perth, $200 across Canberra, $78 in Hobart and $55 in Darwin.
Shopping around is becoming more important this year because petrol prices are rising.
Global oil prices hit their highest level in more than two years earlier this week, which translates to your local bowser.
CommSec chief economist Craig James said overseas oil prices are going up on the back of higher demand as economies open up internationally.
But in volatile Australia, price cycles are hitting budgets harder, Mr James said.
“The biggest concern is still fluctuations in the discounting cycle. You can go from $1.20 a litre to $1.60 or $1.70 in a short time,” he told TND.
Why big chains are so expensive
Those discounting cycles – a long-standing frustration for motorists – also help explain why the big chains are, on average, more expensive than small independent players, FuelTrac general manager Geoff Trott said.
Mr Trott told TND that larger chains – including Coles, Woolworths, Ampol and 7-Eleven – lead market prices higher every few months, before independents, which often lag behind, force them back down.
“They call them discounting cycles, I call it price-hike cycles,” he said.
“[Prices] spend more time high than they do low, and here’s the thing, they’re driven, in almost every market except Darwin … by BP, Coles Express or Caltex Ampol.”
Because bigger chains lead prices higher and keep them there longer, their average prices are higher than independent chains over the year.
Adding insult to injury for motorists, the petrol independents are selling is often being supplied to them by the major chains, showing the majors could offer lower prices than the small players if they wanted.
That’s because majors like Ampol and Viva (which sets prices for Coles Express) own oil refineries in Australia, while BP owns import terminals.
“They’re maximising their profits,” Mr Trott said.
The best way to find a local independent station is to use one of the many fuel applications that now exist, showing real-time prices.
To see just how much cheaper independents are in most cities, read on.
Cheapest petrol prices in Sydney
Sydney petrol prices fluctuate with the discounting cycle, so check if the market is peaking before filling up your tank.
According to the ACCC, BP service stations were the most expensive in 2020, while Speedway petrol stations were the cheapest on offer.
All independents fared better than the major chains, though, including Coles and Woolworths stations.
The percentages in brackets represent market share data from 2019.
Cheapest petrol prices in Melbourne
Petrol prices in Melbourne also follow a discount cycle, so make sure to check which stage the market is at before filling up a full tank.
As with Sydney, BP, Coles and Woolworths are much more expensive on average than smaller players like Metro Petroleum and Liberty.
Cheapest petrol prices in Brisbane
Although Brisbane’s petrol prices are generally cheaper than Sydney and Melbourne, it still follows a discounting cycle with fluctuating prices.
On average Coles was priciest and United was cheapest in 2020.
Cheapest petrol in Adelaide
Adelaide is also a market in which retailers operate under discount cycles.
Check out the ACCC’s guide for advice on the best time to fill up.
Caltex was the most expensive player in Adelaide last year, while United stations were by far the cheapest in comparison.
Cheapest petrol in Perth
Unlike east coast markets, Perth’s petrol scene is regulated, meaning the discounting cycles that plague Sydney and Melbourne don’t exist.
Independents are still cheaper though, with Vibe a clear winner in 2020.
Cheapest petrol in Canberra
Metro petroleum, which had a 2 per cent market share in 2019, was the cheapest player in Canberra for the 2020 year.
In comparison, Coles Express (which has a 26 per cent share) was the most expensive.
Cheapest petrol in Darwin
Darwin is a bit different because an independent (Puma) is the biggest player, meaning it has a larger role setting prices relative to the major players.
As you can see from the above graph, Woolworths and BP are actually cheaper than Puma in Darwin.
Cheapest petrol in Hobart
Tasmania is similar to Darwin in that independents are more numerous relative to larger players. But even then, independents under United are still the cheapest on the market.