By Qishin Tariq
A Malaysian driving a Singapore-registered vehicle recently poured figurative fuel on tension surrounding the illegal filling of RON95 petrol.
In a viral video clip of the incident, the man is seen arguing with another person that he is Malaysian, should be allowed to buy subsidised fuel, and has done so in past without scrutiny.
This, unsurprisingly, has sparked major annoyance — and debate — online, with some noting that this was a common occurrence in Johor.
It has also, once again, triggered questions about current regulations and what, exactly, the rules are when fueling up, for both Malaysians and non-citizens.
Petrol Dealers Association of Malaysia (PDAM) President Khairul Annuar Abdul Aziz says the rule is tied to where the car is registered, regardless of a driver's nationality.
The problem, however, is that while vehicle number plates indicate where a vehicle is registered, fuel is generally not being pumped by attendants at stations.
"Stations these days are self-service, so it's hard to enforce who can refuel what, especially when customers try to hide by using the furthest pump from the payment counter," he pointed out.
As a result, some motorists have taken it upon themselves to fight this fuel misuse, even calling on the public to press the emergency stop button at pumps if they see Singaporean or other foreign cars refuelling.
Khairul Annuar advises against getting involved like this, as the button is part of a safety system to prevent spillage or fires. Association members, he says, have reported fights breaking out, even when petrol station staff are the ones telling off errant motorists.
While the sale of RON95 has been restricted since 2010, updated rules since 2020 have also limited the sale of diesel to 20 litres a day at petrol stations within 25km of the Malaysia-Singapore border. There is no limit on the purchase of RON97, though, as long as it is pumped directly into the vehicle's tank.
On the Singaporean side, meanwhile, the Customs Department has the "three-quarter tank rule", wherein Singapore-registered vehicles leaving Singapore via the land checkpoints need to have a minimum amount of motor fuel of at least three-quarters of the tank.
Despite the regulations, however, Khairul Annuar speculates that motorists continue to unashamedly refuel because there appear to be no legal consequences; at least as far as Malaysia is concerned.
Motorists in the clear
Currently, the onus is on petrol station operators to ensure that foreign-registered vehicles do not purchase subsidised petrol, on threat of a fine of up to RM2 million (US$450,000), or three years' jail, or both, for individuals owning the station.
Just in March 2023, for example, a station owner in Johor Bahru was fined RM40,000 (US$9,085) by the Sessions Court there, for allowing a vehicle with a foreign registration number to fill up with RON95 petrol.
Yet an issue is that action can only be taken against petrol station operators and not errant motorists.
For the record, the drive for Singaporeans to fuel up in Malaysia is largely due to the latter's heavily subsidised fuel prices. As of March 2023, the Finance Ministry has maintained the ceiling price of RON95 at RM2.05 (US$0.47) per litre and diesel at RM2.15 (US$0.49) per litre. Meanwhile, unsubsidised RON97 petrol is priced at RM3.35 (US$0.76) per litre.
In comparison, fuel prices tracked by Motorist.sg for the week ending 15 April recorded prices starting at S$2.79 (US$2.10) for a litre of RON95, S$2.49 (US$1.88) for diesel, and S$3.26 (US$2.45) for RON98 (Singaporean pumps don't offer RON97).
This makes Malaysian fuel prices 60-80% cheaper than what Singaporeans pay at home, even if they buy RON97 in Malaysia.
Singapore's government has made its stance on fuel subsidies clear, refusing to buckle even when diesel and petrol prices hit S$3.10 (US$2.33) per litre in the middle of last year. In fact, some Singaporean petrol companies raised their prices the very day after oil titan Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 Feb 2022.
Incidentally and amusingly, this price stress has led to some odd tricks by motorists trying to get every drop of value when refuelling in Malaysia.
Tips and tricks
One method was to use a car jack to tilt the vehicle, in order to fill the tank a little bit more.
However, mechanics have warned that not only does the method not work, it can potentially damage the vehicle. Rocking the car to "settle" the fuel also likely has little benefit, especially since filling to the brim poses a fire hazard if petrol spills.
Shell Malaysia Trading managing director Shairan Huzani Husain, who is better known on social media as Pak Cik Shell (Uncle Shell), has also taken to busting common myths about how to get more petrol from pumps.
Among the myths busted was that lightly pressing the pump lever to refuel slower somehow results in getting more, and that pumping at night when the petrol is supposedly cooler gets one more fuel as the petrol is denser.
In reality, however, pumps are regularly calibrated to ensure accurate flow, while the fuel reservoirs under the pumps are well insulated and not affected by outside temperature.
That being said, what one can do to ensure optimum fuel performance is to keep one's car in good working condition and maintain good driving habits. This includes servicing your vehicle periodically, checking tyre pressure, and optimising weight and aerodynamics.
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