Alison Griffiths

Last week, I was absent-mindedly gassing up my car when a woman on the other side of the pump threw a fit. Using an impressive vocabulary she thoroughly cursed avaricious oil companies, perfidious politicians and the oil cartel. Then she got in her car, slammed the door and vamoosed, leaving a patch of rubber on the pavement.

She has a right to be upset. Gasoline prices are high and though they've moderated lately, volatility is likely in our future. In the past six months, the price at the pump has ranged between $1.15 and $1.36 a litre; that's a nearly 20 per cent fluctuation, which could add $250 to $400 a year to your transportation bill.

The good news is you are not helpless in the face of big, bad oil. Here are nine ways to prune gasoline costs by hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars annually.

1. Ditch your car! Or at least carefully examine your alternatives.

The Canadian Automobile Association pegs the annual operating costs (fuel, maintenance, tires) of a new four-cylinder Chevrolet Cruze in 2011 at $2,646, assuming an average of 18,000 kilometres driven. You can add another $6,237 for fixed ownership costs including insurance, license and registration, depreciation and financing costs.

Obviously the annual sum will vary depending on where you live, the age of the car and the state of your finances but it gives you an idea about the real costs of car ownership.

The obvious alternatives are taxis, public transit and carpooling. Car sharing is increasingly becoming popular and easy to use. Clients usually pay an annual or start-up fee, and then a per-use fee for the reserved car. AutoShare in Toronto has around 11,000 members. Zipcar, available in both Vancouver and Toronto, has 673,000 members combined in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. For smaller cities look for co-op car sharing organizations.

2. Kill the idle. More than three minutes of idling can reduce engine life and excessive idling can add as much as 50 per cent to your fuel costs. You'll also burn up to 75 per cent more oil. And forget the winter warm-up. Cars today have fast and efficient heaters.

3. Easy does it starts. Taking off like a Derby horse uses 40 per cent more fuel and increases emissions by 400 per cent. And you don't even save much time, less than three minutes in an hour of driving.

4. Easy does it driving. I've got a heavy foot, but I'm trying to change because cars travelling at 120 km/hour versus 100 km/hour use 20 per cent more fuel. My husband approves, he's always telling me to slow down.

5. Lighten up. Don't store heavy items in the trunk. Even a couple hundred extra pounds adds stress to the engine and decreases gas mileage.

6. Give your engine a checkup. Regular maintenance increases gas mileage and extends vehicle life.

7. Keep the pressure up. Correct tire pressure can save as much as two weeks' worth of gas annually. And your tires will last longer too.

8. Take shank's mare. Walk the walk whether it's in those car-lovin' power centre malls or down the street for a litre of milk. You'll get skinny while saving dough.

9. Check out new car technology. You can save hundreds if not thousands annually by picking the right car. I bought a Toyota Camry hybrid five years ago. I estimate that its phenomenal mileage — an honest six litres per 100 miles or 47 miles per gallon in the city and on highways — has saved me $6,000 over that period.

My big hobby is trail riding, which pretty much requires a truck to haul the horse trailer. I've always felt a little guilty driving a big eight-cylinder, though I did the best I could with a Toyota Tundra ten years ago that boasted the best gas mileage around.

But the Tundra was a little underpowered for big hills. On top of that, the Tundra never got the advertised gas mileage!

This year, I traded it for a six-cylinder Ford 150 EcoBoost. Yes, I said six cylinders! Don't ask me how it works but it hauls like a dream and I'm averaging 13.5 L per 100 miles or almost 21 miles per gallon in the city and country. If you are challenged by mileage calculations here's a handy site for the conversion.

Next time you want to strike out at big oil, strike back instead by sipping instead of guzzling.

Alison Griffiths' latest book isCount on Yourself: Take Charge of Your Money. You can reach her at www.alisongriffiths.ca, and on Twitter at @alisononmoney.