Can you beat gas prices?

First it’s up, then it’s down…  Next to the weather, gas prices have become a popular topic of conversation. As prices go higher and higher, experts can’t seem to agree on whether we’re in for record fuel costs this summer or if gas prices have already peaked (at least for the near future).

In recent weeks, you’ve likely heard some of the reasons as to why prices are on the rise. First, there’s the cost of crude oil, which has been inching up again. Political turmoil in the Middle East (namely Syria, Yemen and South Sudan) has affected the world oil supply with decreases in exports. Fears over conflict with Iran have led some countries to implement embargoes, and some insurance companies have reportedly stopped insuring vessels sailing from the country. Shutdowns at major refineries in the U.S. and Europe have also affected supplies here in North America.

And while you might think Canada should be immune to these issues — we do have our own oil, after all — the issue isn’t quite so simple. The world market determines the price of crude oil. However, that cost only makes up about 53 per cent of the cost we pay at the pump, according to CBC News.

Where does the rest come go? Someone is making profit each step of the way. About 12 per cent of the pump prices goes to oil refineries. Depending on where you live, 30 per cent or more of the price goes to taxes — including the HST in some provinces. The rest goes toward marketing, distribution and other operational costs.  Over time, the proportions have changed — but that’s little comfort to current consumers.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot the average driver can do to change the price. Instead, we have to focus on what we can do to reduce our consumption — and hopefully keep our budgets in check.

Here’s a round-up of some of our top tips.

Downsize your ride

Ever feel like you’re on the road with bigger and bigger vehicles?  Bigger fuel tanks, bigger cars and bigger engines all add up to bigger budgets. When fuel prices peaked around Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many people rushed to trade in their gas guzzlers. When prices came down and stayed down, it seems as though people hadn’t learned their lesson.

Today, there are more options than ever before for people looking to buy something more fuel efficient — including fuel-efficient sedans, hybrids and electric cars. Some of the names getting attention in this year’s ecoENERGY for Vehicles Awards include the Honda CR-Z and Smart for two (both two-seater models), the Toyota Prius V, Chevrolet Volt, Nissan LEAF and Hyundai Sonata.  (Another good source to try is the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Most and Least Efficient Vehicles.)

Drive less

What if downsizing your vehicle or taking public transportation isn’t an option? Common sense reminds us that driving less using less fuel — but how can you make that work? Try:

Carpool. Have you noticed how many vehicles on the road are mostly empty? Share a ride to work, events or other outings to save fuel.

Power your own transportation. When possible, walking or bicycling to run errands or visit friends also helps sneak some exercise into your life. Make exercise an excursion rather than going for a car ride as recreation.

Plan your trips. Who has time to make a trip out for every little thing? Try to run all of your errands together, or plan them around a trip you’re already making (like your daily commute or an appointment).

Share a car. If you want to save on other car-related costs like car loans and maintenance, look to see if  car sharing programs like Zipcar or AutoShare are up and running in your area. You don’t have to own a car to enjoy the occasional use of a vehicle.

Make fuel economy count

Perhaps we can’t avoid driving, but we can make a tank of gas go farther. For instance:

Make sure your car gets regular check-ups. The better shape your car is in, the more efficiently it will run — and the less fuel it will use. For instance, make sure your tires are in good condition and that they’re property inflated (they’ll last longer too). Regularly changing your oil, engine coolant, filters and spark plugs and keeping your engine tuned can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 per cent.

Clear off your roof racks. Luggage won’t fit in the car? Carrying on the top cuts into your car’s aerodynamics and increases wind resistance — and decreases fuel economy by as much as 5 per cent, say experts. If you’re heading out on a road trip, experts say to keep luggage inside the vehicle instead.

Keep speed in check. Driving close to the speed limit — especially on the highway — saves fuel even if it adds a little time to your trip. Why? Speed increases your vehicle’s wind resistance, meaning it will use proportionally more fuel than if you drive at a slower speed.

Drive smoothly. Aggressive driving not only wastes fuel, it can be dangerous too. Experts say to avoid accelerating too quickly and slamming on the breaks to help save gas. While the amount of improvement in fuel efficiency depends on whom you ask, experts agree that smooth driving makes a difference.

Another hint: leave plenty of space between you and the driver ahead so you won’t have to make any sudden moves.

Mind your idling. Traffic snarls, long traffic lights and waiting in your car can needlessly eat into your fuel supply — and contribute to air pollution. Experts say if you’re going to be stopped for more than 30 seconds, consider turning off your car altogether.

Another way to save time and fuel: try to avoid rush hour traffic and travel at off-peak times.

Ease off the AC. On hot summer days, we know it’s tempting to run the air conditioning on full blast — but doing so can increase gas consumption by 10-20 per cent. Avoid heavy use, and keep temps reasonable by using the fan or rolling down a window.

Try an app for that. Still carrying around a notebook to track your mileage? If you’ve got a smart phone, there are a variety of apps on the market to help manage the task — like AccuFuel and Car Care. ( has a good overview of fuel mileage trackers for iPhone, for example.)

(For more tips, see Top ways to drive on a diet and Save on food and fuel.)

Shop around

Even if you get great gas mileage, you’ll still have to fill up sooner or later. Experts say one brand of fuel is pretty much like another, so shop for the best price. Here are shopping tips to help you trim costs:

Check on prices. Rather than driving around looking for the best deal — and wasting fuel in the process — some websites can help you spy lower prices, including, and (especially if you’re looking for predictions). 

Watch for promotions. Of course, the posted price is just one number to look at. Some gas station chains offer regular coupons (like Canadian Tire) or special promotions that offer a modest reduction in price. Where can you find these offers? Consider signing up for email promotions or looking to your favourite brands’ social media channels.

Keep an ear on the news. Your local news may warn of imminent gas price hikes so it may pay to tune in for updates — especially mid-week when prices rise around payday.

We won’t like it, but we’ll all be dealing with “gas pains” in the future. Luckily, shopping around, minding your driving and considering other forms of transportation can help tame the household budgets.

Additional sources:, CBS News, CTV News,

Photo © Per Nielsen

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