When I was a kid, family holidays meant road trips. From our home base in Toronto, in various years we ventured out to the Canadian Maritimes, along the U.S. east coast, down through Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and – a kids’ classic – trekked to Florida and back, three times. Now that I’ve got a family of my own, we too have enjoyed exploring bits of Canada and the U.S. in the comforts of our own car. But I’d much rather spend money on nice meals, hotels, and admissions to attractions than on gas. So here are a few things I’ve learned on the road of life that can help cut down on fuel costs.
Seek Out Cheap Gas
One of the simplest ways to reduce fuel costs is to pay less for gas when you fill up. While you used to have to rely on spotting the long lineup while you cruised around town, today’s savvy gas shoppers know to log into sites like GasBuddy.com. Search by city, province, or state to find the cheapest gas in your area – or in the areas you’re heading. They even have mobile apps so you can check on the fly.
First off, the disclaimer: all the major gas companies offer some sort of rewards program, but the reality is you don’t really get much for all the points you rack up. Cash in 12,000 Petro-Points for a Fuel Savings Reward card, for example, and you’ll save five cents per litre on your next 200 litres of gas, for a total savings of $10. But if you buy regular-grade gasoline at Petro Canada, you’ll earn only five points per litre of gas you purchase. You’d need to buy 2,400 litres of gas (around $2,000 at current prices) to earn that rewards card. Granted, there are ways to accelerate your earnings – higher grades of gas earn seven to 10 points per litre; and in-store purchases and car wash fees earn 20 points per dollar spent. But the real savings come with gas-specific reward credit cards. Buy gas with the CIBC Petro-Points MasterCard, for example, and you automatically save two cents on every litre. Better yet, if you’re planning a cross-Canada (or across your province) road trip, just before you go sign up for the Canadian Tire Gas Advantage MasterCard and save 10 cents per litre for the first 30 days.
A properly maintained car runs more efficiently and, therefore, costs less to operate. Regular oil changes to clean clogged filters and tune-ups to replace misfiring spark plugs will help ensure your engine isn’t burning excess fuel. Even your tires play a part. The U.S. Department of Energy calculates that motorists “can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3% by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure.” While somewhat biased (in that they want you to buy replacement parts from them), automotive retailer Parts Source has a thorough list of DIYable car repair tips that can improve your fuel efficiency. Also, keep in mind that excess weight requires extra gas. So take the golf bag (or hockey bag in winter) out of the trunk between games, and try to pare back on how much you lug with you on your road trip holiday. Finally, there are a number of driving behaviours that reduce fuel efficiency, including aggressive driving, idling, and speeding. Lowering your speed on the highway from 120 km/h to 100 can reportedly save you up to 20 percent on your gas mileage.