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Today, most cars are issued with a nifty little piece of equipment called a trip computer. Most modern trip computers will record, calculate, and display the distance travelled, the average speed, average fuel consumption, and instant fuel consumption. In most cases it will tell you your range, ie. how many more kilometres you can travel before you need to fill up. However, if your car is slightly older and without a trip computer, you will have to rely on simple mathematics to get a more realistic idea.
Also, if you go according to the manufacturer’s consumption figures, always remember that they are (mostly) a little optimistic. When they tell you it’s 5.0 litres per 100 km, you can almost add 2 litres to that figure for a more realistic idea of fuel economy. In some cases it’s not a huge difference, so don’t use this as a rule of thumb. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the Suzuki Baleno as a practical example to assist in my explanation.
Kilometres per litre, or litres per 100 km?
As a journalist, I work with litres per 100km, but many people understand the km-per-litre system better. In the US and UK, it’s miles per gallon or MPG – yet the two countries have different gallon sizes!
If litres per 100km figures don’t make sense to you, you can use an online converter to find out how many kilometres you’ll get on one litre of petrol, and vice versa. Or, you can just do a simple calculation as per the table below.
Let’s say, for example, that your trip computer (or the manufacturer website) says your specific car uses 8.0-litres of fuel per 100km. The actual formula to get km per litre is 100 divided by 8 = 12.5 (Your car will give you 12.5 km on one litre).
Still unsure? I used two websites called convertworld.com , and convert-me.com, and entered the relevant details.
No trip computer?
The first step in working out consumption is to know that the equation is KILOMETRES DRIVEN, DIVIDED BY THE AMOUNT OF FUEL USED.
If you know the exact distance you covered and how many litres it takes to fill up your tank (ie. your fuel tank size, also on the manufacturer’s website, usually) you can easily just divide the kilometres driven by the fuel used to get your km-per-litre result, and just convert that to litres per 100 km.
Here is an example: According to Suzuki, the fuel in the Baleno’s 37-litre tank will keep you on the road for 726 km before you’ll need to fill up.
726 km divided by 37= 19.62 km per litre. This translates to usage of 5.097 litres per 100 km.
Having driven the Baleno, I know the real (combined/average) figure is actually 5.8 litres per 100 km, (100 divided by 5.8) which translates to 17.24 litres per km. To know how far I’d be able to travel on a single tank, I will then multiply 17.24 by 37 (the number of litres the tank holds). So, in real-life conditions, based on an average consumption of 5.8l per 100 km, I will be able to cover a distance of 637.88 km.
Another no-brainer method would simply be to see how far you can drive on a single tank. When your tank is (very) close to empty, reset your odometer to zero. Now fill her up completely. (If you don’t have a trip odometer, just make a note of the total km travelled just before you put in petrol). Now drive your car until it’s as close to empty as possible, making another note of the total km before filling up again, and recording the number of litres used to fill up the tank.
Then divide the number of kilometres by the litres used, to get kilometres per litre, and convert it to litres per 100 km, which is 5.8 km/L (if you divided by 37).
Estimating the fuel cost for a trip
I love a road trip and am always looking to save money on fuel (so I can spend it on food), so I usually work out my petrol budget to the last kilometre.
To estimate the fuel cost for a trip you need the trip distance, cost of fuel per litre, and the vehicle’s average fuel consumption.
In other words: Divide the total distance (km) by 100. Now multiply the answer by the average fuel consumption, and then multiply this number by the price of fuel (per litre).
Let’s say I want to travel from Cape Town to East London, which is a distance of 1040 km. I will be using the above mentioned Suzuki Baleno because it’s light on fuel. To make this calculation, I will use the average fuel consumption of 5.8 litres per 100 km, but then I also have to take into consideration that I probably won’t be driving 90 km per hour in perfectly flat, windless conditions. So I will base my calculations on 7.0 litres per 100 km – I’d rather be a little conservative so I’m not out of pocket should I encounter typhoons blowing against the front of my windscreen (hopefully not)!
Ok, here goes. My Baleno will use 7.0 L/100 km. So the first step is 1040 km (the distance) divided by 100 which equals 10.4. Now I will multiply this by 7 which equals 72.8 litres.
This figure of 72.8 l will now be multiplied by the current petrol price. I used the current price (93) at the reef which is R18.11. This amounts to R1 318.408. Should you plan on coming back, double that figure, but don’t forget about the kilometres you’ll be covering while you’re there!
And remember, almost everything is always more expensive than you think. It’s a sign of the times. Happy travels!