Saving money on gasoline

July 31 2008 by Ellen Roseman

Luckily for me, I have a round-trip of about eight kilometres to work. I drive my husband to his office and park at Loblaws for $5 a day.

So, high gas prices haven’t hurt our household much. But for long-distance commuters, the rising cost of filling up the tank has thrown their budgets out of whack.

I’ve been scouring the Internet to find a breakdown of wholesale and retail prices, as well as tips on getting more for your money. It’s been “a gas” tracking down the information.

Let’s start with Fuel Focus, an attempt by the federal government to educate consumers about gas prices without doing anything to regulate them. It’s badly out of date, showing gas at $1.40 a litre for the week of July 15, ignoring all the recent price slippage.

The Toronto Gas Prices website shows you a range from lowest ($1.24) to highest ($1.28.8). That’s for regular gas.

As I wrote in my column this week, motorists now pay an wider spread for premium gas. In Toronto, premium ranges from $1.36 to $140.4 a litre. What used to be a 10-cent gap is now 12 cents. Maybe those still using premium gas have European or high-end Japanese cars and they’re fairly insensitive to price.

Dan McTeague, Liberal MP and consumer affairs critic, is a long-time student of pump prices. He goes out on a limb each afternoon and predicts tomorrow’s gas price in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. You can subscribe to his RSS feed and get the upcoming price in your inbox each day, so you can fill up fast or wait a few hours to save a little money.

Petro-Canada, the only Canadian owned oil company, is trying to be more hip and consumer-friendly by starting a blog. The latest post (July 31) talks about the high octane issue. And on July 29, it discusses best practices for corporate bloggers, such as disclosing their true identity and any conflicts of interest. Remember the CEO of Whole Foods pretending to be someone else, while downgrading a rival retailer?

The Pump Talk blog has three writers and an editor, all Petro-Can employees. They refer to the always well researched MJ Ervin, a Calgary consultant to the petroleum industry, which publishes weekly pump prices across Canada. At least, this survey is relatively up to date, with prices from July 29.

Canadian politicians have studied possible gouging by oil companies again and again. To see a list of the two dozen federal and provincial inquiries and a brief synopsis of the results, go to the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute .

In March 2006, the Competition Bureau said it had found no evidence of a national conspiracy to fix gas prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But last month, it laid charges against 13 individuals and 11 companies accused of fixing gas prices at the pump in Quebec. You’ll find details here about the case and information here about how you can help the Competition Bureau in its work to root out potential price-fixing in the Canadian retail gas market.

Before leaving the Competition Bureau, don’t ignore its warning about the waste of time and money buying so-called gas-saving devices. It links to a test of more than 100 devices by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and charges laid against the distributors of several devices (Econopro, the Fuel Saver Pro and the Platinum Vapour Injector) in Canada.

Did you hear that the temperature of the fuel you pump into your tank affects how much you spend and how much fuel is ultimately consumed? There are watchdogs in the United States to protect consumers against hot fuel here and here.

Finally, I found a neat website dedicated to making all cars get 40 miles per gallon or better. (I wish I knew how to convert 40 mpg to metric measurements.) Only Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid are reaching that goal now, but you can get quick ratings for all 2007 models here

Please add your suggestions and tips. And can someone explain why diesel gas, which used to be much cheaper than regular gasoline, is now more expensive?

24 comments

  1. Lior

    Jul 31 2008

    Ultra-low sulfur Diesel is more expensive to refine, and the demand for it has increased in the past few years. That’s why it’s more expensive than regular gasoline these days.

    However, the increased price makes up for it in fuel economy. Diesel engines are more durable and more fuel efficient than gasoline engines.

    You can easily put over 1,200 kms on a tank of diesel of mostly highway driving, compared to 800 kms AT BEST you will get with cars like the Civic or even Prius. Not to mention that modern diesel engines have more than twice the torque of gasoline engines.

    I think the most useful tip I can provide is buy a fuel efficient car and keep it well maintained if you have to do long commutes. I see a lot of people these days driving SUVs and crossovers. What for?

    Unless you’re going off-roading on a regular basis, you can easily save yourself money on fuel and insurance by switching to a four banger. Europe has been doing it for decades, thanks to all the extra road taxes they have to pay. So why can’t we?

    Other tips are fairly obvious defensive driving techniques: drive the speed limit, accelerate slowly, avoid unnecessary braking by not tailgating and keeping some distance. If you drive stick, try to get to the highest gear more quickly.

    These are all tips that will not only keep you safe, but also save you money on fuel.

  2. brad

    Aug 1 2008

    I agree with Lior about diesel — demand has increased, which has jacked up the price, plus it’s more expensive to make clean diesel fuel. Until very recently diesel was a bad environmental choice; despite its higher fuel economy it was a significant source of fine particle emissions, which are suspected to be a leading cause of cardiac- and cancer-related deaths in urban areas. Most of those emissions come from trucks and buses, but diesel cars also contribute to the problem. But the newest generation of diesel cars (and cleaner diesel fuel) result in lower emissions and I think diesel can now be considered a “green” fuel source. Biodiesel especially falls into this category, but some manufacturers will void your warranty if you use biodiesel so you have to be careful about that (not to mention that biodiesel isn’t widely available).

    As for converting miles per gallon to liters/1,000 km, there’s a conversion tool here:

    http://www.onlineconversion.com/fuel_consumption.htm

    Just be sure you know what kind of gallons you’re talking about first. In the U.S. they use U.S. gallons; here in Canada we use Imperial gallons. I bought a car a few years after I moved here to Canada from the US, and when I was researching the fuel economy of the car I was thinking of buying, I was very impressed to see that it got 45 mpg. But I didn’t realize at the time that this was expressed in Imperial gallons; the fuel economy value in US gallons was considerably lower.

  3. Lou Elwell

    Aug 1 2008

    The EPA tests referenced in the article are a little stale. Only one energy saving device has been tested by the EPA this century and only 6 in the decade of the 1990s.

    Carburetor engines and leaded gasoline are hardly representative of today’s cars.

    For a complete discussion, please visit: http://vortexfuelsaver.com/27.html

    Regards,
    Lou Elwell
    Vortex Fuel Saver

  4. Lior

    Aug 1 2008

    Lou Elwell:

    Your devices and all similar devices are a sham and it has been proved over and over again. And your amateur-looking website does not help things, either.

    I could easily obtain a 10% and even as high as 20% improvement by adjusting my driving habits, coordinating my routes more carefully and not driving unless I really have to, as opposed to installing your device.

    I really could not care any less about the money back guarantee. In fact, I really enjoyed reading all the hilarious “testimonials” on your site, including those that claim their car now feels more “balanced”.

  5. Andy

    Aug 1 2008

    Lior is quite right. If any of the so-called gas saving devices worked, you can bet that one or all car companies would offer them on their products, especially now! They sure sound sweet.

    My strategy fo reducing gasoline consumption was made by my employer. We were transferred from an office at 401 and Keele (a 10 km ride, one way) to Bay and College. So, my car sits in the garage from Sunday to Saturday, waiting for trips to Loblaws, etc. on Saturday afternoon. Otherwise, I have a Metropass for travel to and from work and to many other places within Toronto.

    I used to fill up the gas tank every two weeks. Now, leaving aside trips to Muskoka and other stuff, I fill it up maybe every other month. It used to cost me $40 per fillup, which I now use for a Metropass. It would now cost me about $50 per fillup. Makes the Metropass even sweeter. And there’s a tax credit.

    I know this experience isn’t everyone’s; but it’s mine!!!

  6. Lior

    Aug 2 2008

    Andy:

    The good thing about the Metropass is that, as you mentioned, you can write it off on your taxes and get the money back. You can’t do that with fuel unless you’re a business, then you can write off some of your fuel costs as a legitimate expense.

    I personally despise public transit. Here in York region, it’s just dreadful. My car went bust on me the other day and I had to take the bus to work, a mere 7 kilometres one-way drive that normally takes about 5 minutes by car. I had to take THREE buses and transfer twice, for a total route time of just under an hour!

  7. Rob in Madrid

    Aug 2 2008

    if you have a standard, the easiest way to save on fuel is keep the clutch in more when cruising and to turn the car off at lights, keep clutch in and stick in first gear, turn car on as other light turns yellow.

    Next easiest is keep your tires inflated properly.

    As well, leave a few minutes early so you don’t have to rush. I’m 50-50 on that one.

  8. brad

    Aug 3 2008

    Some cities do have good public tranist systems. Montreal, where I live, is blessed with a good transit system and a fantastic network of bike paths. I hardly drove my car at all this past winter, as it’s a lot easier to take the bus and Metro than to try to find parking when there’s snow on the streets (and this winter there was a LOT of snow on the streets!). In the summer I bike a lot and depending on traffic and parking congestion I can arrive at my destination faster by bike than by car. I’ve actually considered selling my car altogether, but it’s paid for and it comes in handy for weekend trips out of the city and for hauling large stuff.

    High gasoline prices affect rural people more than those in cities. When I lived in Vermont I put 32,000 kilometers on my car every year. Here in Montreal it’s taken me more than 3 years to put 32,000 km on my car.

  9. Mark

    Aug 4 2008

    Biggest return on investment for fuel milage is proper driving habits. Unfortunately many of the people that complain loudest about the cost of fuel are the same ones that drive 140kph on the highway, jackrabbit from light to light in the city, and change lanes (and mash the throttle) at every opportunity in traffic just to gain that extra 10 feet over the other drivers.

    I’ve given up trying to even speak to people who complain about their poor fuel milage as it seems that if they don’t even have enough sense to connect their aggressive driving habits to their resultant fuel milage, what am I going to be able to say to convince them?

    As for converting MPG to L/100K, Google will do it for you by simply going to the main Google search page and typing in your query, for example:

    “10 Liters per 100 kilometers to miles per gallon”

    Click on the “Search” button, and you’ll see that the Google Calculator feature automatically returns the result, along with relevant search results as well.

    The Google Calculator works with most conversions, experiment and you’ll find it’s a great tool.

  10. Potato

    Aug 6 2008

    Lior: York Region Transit is an abomination. I’m particularly amused by the Pink and Purple Viva lines that inexplicably dodge around the populated and walkable Unionville area to instead service an uninhabited construction site.

  11. Norm Nicol

    Aug 11 2008

    I found a good website for gas prices. http://www.gasbuddy.com

  12. Hybrid Fan

    Aug 11 2008

    As many people have pointed out, one can have a significant impact on their fuel mileage by simple changes in their driving habits.

    We purchased a Toyota Camry Hybrid 18 months ago. One of the features of the hybrids is the continuous feedback one receives regarding their fuel usage.

    We found our driving habits changing, resulting in our fuel usage improving by 15-20% since the purchase.

    I notice my driving habits have changed in our second car or any other vehicle I drive.

    If all vehicles provided the fuel usage feedback provided by the hybrids, I think we’d see an improvement in real fuel usage with very little additional expense or technology.

  13. Barb Vipond

    Sep 24 2008

    Ellen, I have a Fuel Genie in my 2004 Elantra and I am overly pleased with the results.

    My husband drives a Grand Am 2004 and he too has seen an extra 85 kms per full tank. The engine is also more responsive.

    What happened to you? Was it installed correctly? I’m led to believe that not all vehicles have the same installation.

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