ALTHOUGH consumers have access to the widest and most fuel efficient range of vehicles ever, motorists could make drastic savings on car costs by downsizing, according to a new RACQ report.
The 2012 Vehicle Running Costs Survey, out today, compared the private operating costs of 101 cars from different classes and with different engine types, including LPG, petrol, diesel, hybrid and for the first time, electric.
RACQ's Steve Spalding said families could save thousands of dollars annually by simply choosing a lighter, smaller car.
"You could save around $32 per week, or $1,707.92 a year by purchasing a medium size car instead of a large car," Mr Spalding said.
"Downsizing from an all-terrain 4WD to a compact SUV could save you $111.67 per week, or $5,807 every year."
Mr Spalding added that even switching between engine sizes in the same class could mean good savings on running costs - without sacrificing performance.
"High fuel prices are forcing many owners away from large vehicles into medium or smaller cars to save money. But Ford's four-cylinder turbo petrol 2.0 litre Falcon EcoBoost and the 4.0 litre LPG Falcon could help those looking to buck that trend," Mr Spalding said.
"The EcoBoost has all the features and performance of a large car, but it will cost motorists $240.25 per week, compared to the Ford Falcon 4.0 litre petrol at $253.26 per week. That's a saving of almost $700 per year.
"Meantime, Ford's 4.0 litre LPI Falcon, which runs on LPG, will cost motorists $232.42 per week, which is $400 a year cheaper than the EcoBoost and $1,100 a year less than the petrol 4.0 litre Falcon," he said.
The survey ranked the Suzuki Alto as the cheapest car to own and operate across all vehicle classes, with an operating cost of $116.70 per week or $6,068.29 a year.
The Toyota LandCruiser GXL turbo diesel was the most expensive car, with owners forking out $398.16 per week, or $20,704.29 a year.
"While it may be impractical for motorists who own a LandCruiser to downsize to a small car like the Alto, it is worth noting that the Suzuki owner can operate their car for more than three weeks for the same amount the Toyota owner spends in one week," Mr Spalding said.
"Interestingly, while the Alto's overall running costs dropped by $2.77 per week compared to last year, the LandCruiser weekly costs rose by $9.44 per week."
The survey also compared a range of new vehicle technologies, including hybrid cars and, for the first time, an electric vehicle.
"The cheapest of the six 'green' technology vehicles in our survey was the new Toyota Prius-C Hybrid," Mr Spalding said.
"Its annual cost of $8,309.32 is $1,784.83 cheaper than the nearest rival, the Honda Insight VTi Hybrid," he said.
"It's 23,990 price was also low enough to contain its depreciation and interest costs.
"The only electric vehicle on the local market, the Mitsubishi iMiEV, fared the worst of the green vehicles because of its expensive $48,000 price tag, and correspondingly high depreciation costs."
Mr Spalding said that electric vehicles, like most new technologies, would become more affordable over time.
RACQ's Running Costs Survey found depreciation remained the single biggest cost component across all categories. However, the impact wasn't felt on a weekly or annual basis, but at the end of the ownership period.
The survey also took into account fuel pricing, stamp duty, registration fees, insurance and interest rates across all vehicle categories.
A summary of the 2012 survey is available at www.racq.com.au/runningcosts.