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SCOTT HANNAH: Financially savvy driving habits that will save at the pump

Driving with a lead foot can add up to poor fuel efficiency. Here are ways to reduce your costs.
Driving with a lead foot can add up to poor fuel efficiency. Here are ways to reduce your costs.

Q: I moved to my relative’s house in a different city temporarily while I work and save up money for university during my gap year. My parents are helping me out, but I’m kind of surprised how easy it is to spend a lot on living costs, and I don’t even have to pay rent. My biggest expense is definitely gas. I drive a decent car that my parents gave me to use, and when I told my dad I’m spending about $200 a month on fuel, he was very surprised. He used to drive the car more than I do on a weekly basis and even accounting for higher gas prices now than a year ago, he still spent less than I do. I do have a bit of a lead foot, but is there anything else I can do that will save me money on fuel? ~Allyssa

A: With summer driving season upon us, the price of gas will go up for primarily two reasons: demand, and the cost to produce the summer fuel blend. But vacations aside, many of us rely on our vehicles for daily commutes.

When it comes to daily use, the way we drive can have a significant impact on our fuel costs. Here are some things to consider as you plan how to better afford your vehicle:

Watch how you drive

This is probably the single biggest factor that you have immediate control over. If you race from one red light to the next, accelerate quickly and frequently, rev your engine while stopped, like to speed excessively or spend countless hours idling, your vehicle will use more fuel. Driving your car hard will also end up costing you more in maintenance.

Accelerating smoothly, moving with the flow of traffic to decrease how often you need to come to a stop, keeping within the speed limit and planning your route and/or driving time to decrease idling in traffic jams will all help you realize fuel savings.

Maximum fuel efficiency depends on speed

To figure out the optimal speed for each vehicle’s maximum fuel efficiency is an extremely complicated calculation, best left to the experts. Some of the factors they consider are how aerodynamic a vehicle is, how heavy it is, how its weight impacts the friction of the tires on the road and friction within the car’s components. How fast the car is going is a key consideration, and one we can definitely control.

The worst fuel mileage a vehicle can get is when the engine is running but the car or truck isn’t moving; the best is between 65 and 95 km/h depending on vehicle type.

Your driving habits matter

If you have a choice, drive during the cooler parts of the day when air is denser. Cooler, denser air has more oxygen and that helps boost fuel efficiency.

Combine your trips when running errands and if you can, park in a central area and walk to where you need to go rather than moving the car to each stop.

Remove roof racks when you don’t need them and avoid carrying around extra weight in your trunk or back seat. The heavier a car is, the less fuel efficient it is. One hundred pounds of junk in your trunk can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as two per cent. Empty roof racks change the aerodynamics of your vehicle, and if you’ve got bikes and/or a carrier always with you, that can reduce your fuel efficiency by as much as five per cent.

Using your air conditioning does reduce fuel efficiency, but so does driving with your windows open, especially once you pick up speed. Turn the AC down to a moderate rather than high setting, use the vent setting whenever possible, close the shade cover of your sunroof and park in the shade as often as you can. It’s easier to keep a car cool once it’s already cool inside, than to cool down a hot car.

Keep your vehicle in good repair

Routine maintenance is essential. Beyond oil and filter changes, here are some things to keep in mind:

Make sure your gas cap fits properly, isn’t cracked or damaged and isn’t missing entirely; this will stop your gas from evaporating before you get a chance to use it.

Monitor your tire pressure. Low air pressure reduces fuel efficiency and can cause damage to your tires.

Have your air filter replaced as per the maintenance schedule of your vehicle so that it doesn’t decrease your fuel economy.

Ensure that your accessories work as intended, e.g. wiper motor, air conditioner and heater, so that they don’t cause more drain on your car’s system than necessary.

If your check engine light goes on, head to a qualified mechanic. A lot of people treat the light as a gentle reminder rather than urgent suggestion. You can usually expect fuel efficiency to decrease whenever there’s something seriously wrong with a car.

The bottom line on savvy driving habits

If your car’s dash can display the fuel efficiency calculation based on your driving, keep an eye on it as you adopt savvier driving habits. Also consider if you can reduce your reliance on your vehicle. Carpooling, taking transit or switching to pedal power even one day a week or when you run errands will help you save at the pump. There’s no need to go Fred Flintstone all the way right from the start. Work your way up to finding a balance that works for you. With the high cost of fuel and concern for the environment, you’re not the only one who wants to get from A to B as efficiently as possible.

Scott Hannah is president of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. For more information about managing your money or debt, contact Scott by email , check www.nomoredebts.org or call 1-888-527-8999.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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