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Petrol: family budget's volatile ingredient

Author: Daniel StantonDate: 25 February 2012

An NRMA Motoring & Services study has found the annual fuel bill for a family in Sydney's western suburbs could increase by over $300 per year due to volatile petrol prices.

Every 10 cents per litre increase in petrol – such as the increase we have seen in the past couple of months due to rising oil prices – will see a family in Campbelltown driving a large selling family car fork out an additional $312 a year driving to the Sydney CBD for work.

The research found the annual fuel bill for driving a large selling family car also increased by:

 - $252 for families in St Marys  - $128 Parramatta
 - $342 Richmond  - $165 Cronulla
 - $146 Hornsby  - $458 Wollongong

Unleaded petrol price fluctuations occur due to the volatility of world oil prices and movements in the Australian dollar.

NRMA President Wendy Machin said motorists were paying around 143 cents per litre for regular unleaded at the high point of the Sydney price cycle on 7 December last year.

"Now, just 10 weeks later, a 9-month high in the price of oil will mean that by the high point of the next price cycle, motorists will be paying an average price of around 153 cents per litre," Ms Machin said.

"Motorists in large part have no control over price fluctuations and our dependency on fuel mostly from unstable parts of the world only adds to uncertainty."

For the past six months, Sydney motorists have had a new battle on top of uncertain of world prices – and it has nothing to do with where our fuel comes from.

Ms Machin said petrol companies were catching Sydney motorists out every week now by abandoning the 7-day price cycle to which motorists were accustomed.

"Predicting the cheapest day of the week to buy petrol had become a guessing game. Gone are the days of 'cheap Tuesdays' when families knew they were going to save 10-15 cents per litre; and could factor this into their weekly budgets.

"We have seen anything from seven to 15-day price cycles over the past six months.

"We need a home-grown alternative fuel industry along with a combination of electric vehicles that could help reduce the instability around fuel prices, create jobs and boost consumer confidence.

"We have the resources and raw materials here – it's time to invest in them."


Figure 1: Selected monthly average unleaded petrol prices in Sydney since 2000

January 2000 $0.77.8 February 2001 


January 2002 $0.81.3  March 2003 $1.00.8
February 2004 $0.90.3 January 2005 $0.97.1
June 2006 $1.38.4 January 2007 $1.12.4
July 2008 $1.60.8* January 2009 $1.09.2
January 2010 $1.26.1 January 2011 $1.35.4
February 2012  $1.43.3    

 *Highest ever average monthly unleaded price in Sydney.


Figure 2: Increased annual cost of petrol driving to Sydney's CBD based on a 10 cent per litre rise


Large selling family car+

Large selling small sedan+







St Mary's





































































+ Large selling family car = Holden Commodore Berlina and Large selling small sedan = Ford Focus.

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