Business

A full tank could take you even further

By Tameka Gordon Assistant business co-ordinator tamekag@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 03, 2013    

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Many individuals find it easier to make small petrol top-ups but this 'just enough gas to go' method may be hurting your pocket and your car more than you know.

Petrol prices have become a moving target for some motorists making it increasingly difficult to budget for this aspect of one's expenditure.

"You would do much better to full the tank then make little top-ups to keep it full," according to Kenneth Myles, operator of Kenny's Garage.

While noting that the current economic climate puts a full tank out of the reach for many motorists, Myles cautioned that constantly driving on less than quarter tank could incur added costs and shorten the life of the vehicle.

The risk is greater for fuel-injected vehicles, he said pointing out that the fuel pump is kept cool by the gas in the tank.

"When the gas level is low, the pump cannot be cooled which eventually leads to overheating and a burnt pump," he said.

Carburetor-type vehicles endure the same consequences of low petrol, according to the car care techinician, who has been in the business for 49 years.

Checks by the Sunday Finance revealed price ranges of $10,000 to $30,000 for a genuine fuel pump, while with non-genuine pumps are sold for an average of $5,000 to $8,000, depending on the make of the vehicle.

"Non-genuine pumps typically last two to three years before they need to be replaced," Myles reckons adding that though labour cost in Jamaica is typically low, parts prices are traditionally very high.

Running your vehicle on low petrol can also cause the pump to pull sediments from the bottom of the tank into the injection system, said Myles.

"Gas is not always clean and these sediments can also clog injectors, resulting in the accelerated depreciation of the vehicle," he cautions.

The practice of topping up at different service stations as the need arises, could also expose your vehicle to "bad gas", according to the ATL Automotive service team.

In explaining that the quality of petrol sold by different gas stations may vary, the ATL team suggested that a mixture of good and inferior quality gas may lead to the slow demise of the vehicle, or expensive repair costs.

Topping up with smaller, more frequent stops has also been described by Trevor Heaven as an "ultimately uneconomical way to try to be economical".

"Obviously not many people can afford to full up," the former Jamaica Gasoline Retailers Association president said "but you get more out of your money if you make the effort to full up then top up to keep it full."

Though the average transaction cost has increased, the actual amount of petrol per transaction has decreased, Heaven reckons.

The result is a culture of what he describes as 'psychological consumption', "where Jamaicans buy gas by the dollar value instead of purchasing to get litres of petrol".

This may be seen in the buying habits of certain groups such as taxi operators.

"Nobody thinks about the litres, you just know you're buying $4,000 or $3,500 worth of gas," vice president of the National Council of Taxi Associations, Frederick Bryan asserts echoing Heaven's views.

The number of trips made by taxi operators is not therefore viewed in terms of how many litres were purchased but on the basis of how much money was spent, in Bryan's view.

For him, a $4,000 top up works out to an average 10 round trips a day, at the current average cost of $115 per litre for 87 Octane.

"I can't tell the last day I filled my tank," Bryan said, though he concedes it would "probably cost about $6000" to full the tank of his 1996 Toyota Corolla.

"You actually use more fuel to stop and start every time you pull into the gas station," Heaven explains, equating the process to what happens when one is stuck in traffic. "Evaporation also reduces the volume of gas in the vehicle when the level is too low, which in effect is your money evaporating."

More battery power is also needed to switch on and off the vehicle resulting in additional wear and tear.

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