Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:15:00 GMT | By Alison Griffiths, MSN Money

How to avoid being a gas hog

Follow these simple tips to fight the rising cost of fuelling your car.

Alison Griffiths

The majority of Canadians are still digging out after this horrendous winter and the urge to leave cabin fever behind is building. Nothing spells freedom like hitting the open road for a summer driving holiday.

Unfortunately, as commuters know all too well, the driving tab has risen steeply. Just a decade ago, gas cost roughly 75 cents a liter. Today, it is as much as $1.40. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) estimates that the fuel costs of the 4-cylinder Honda Civic LX, one of the most economical cars around, now amount to $1,692 annually when driven only 18,000 kilometres.

Oddly, while we may scrutinize what we spend on everyday items in order to save a few bucks, most Canadians completely ignore the hundreds, even thousands that can be saved by driving smarter.

Try these five ideas to cut gas costs.

1. Let your car teach you to drive.

I’ve been assiduously using my vehicle’s trip recorder that indicates litres per 100 kilometers and total fuel consumed for each excursion.

Frankly, it’s sobering to see how much gas is used for a simple trip into town. Let this information motivate you to consolidate trips and eliminate superfluous ones.

Also, it’s also a bit embarrassing to discover that my husband, whose driving I’ve criticized for years, invariably uses considerably less gas for the same trip. He eases away from stop signs and drives much slower than I do. Boring but very economical.

Science bears this out. Quick acceleration from a stop adds 40 per cent to fuel consumption and increases emissions by 400 per cent while saving less than three minutes over 60 minutes of driving.

Easing off on the accelerator has even more dramatic results: cars travelling at 120 kph versus 100 kph use 20 per cent more fuel. Trucks gobble up 50 per cent more fuel in the same comparison.

Excessive idling is also a fuel gulper. It can increase gas consumption by 50 per cent and shorten engine life while decreasing the life of engine oil by up to 75 per cent.

2. Shape up your car.

While you may know that regular maintenance is important for increasing gas mileage, monitoring of tire pressure is often forgotten. Properly inflated tires can save you up to two weeks of gas a year while reducing tire wear.

3. Don’t store and tow carefully.

A trunk full of stuff nibbles at gas consumption, especially for smaller, less powerful cars.

Towing boats or ATVs turns vehicles into gas hogs. Hauling my horse trailer, for example, eats up 30 per cent more fuel just on the flat. If you tow, be especially conscious of a heavy foot on the pedal.

4. Return to nature.

Turn on air conditioning and the engine immediately revs higher. Same thing happens if you start or turn up the heater. That’s cash flying out of your pocket whether you’re idling or cruising. Keep the heater low while driving and try cranking down the windows in the summer.

However, on the highway air vents are the gas miser’s best move. Gasbuddy claims that having the windows open at highway speeds creates additional drag, which can increase gas consumption by up to 10 per cent

5. Park it!

Few people have a real grasp of what it costs to operate an automobile. Thankfully the CAA does the calculations every year.

The CAA’s 2014 Driving Cost report pegs the fuel cost of operating a 2013 four cylinder Honda Civic LX at 9.4 cents a kilometer assuming 18,000 kilometers travelled a year and an average gas price of 1.24 cents a liter.

Add in maintenance and the amortized cost of tires and you’re out of pocket 14.53 cents per kilometer or $2,615 annually.

And don’t forget the costs of insurance, license, registration, depreciation and a car loan, if you have one. They account for $6,482 (using an average national loan figure) bringing the annual cost for the same Civic LX to $9,097. Now think about how much you must earn before tax to support those four wheels.

Determine your own specific costs with the CAA’s excellent new driving cost calculator that allows customization for your vehicle and by province for gas, license fees and depreciation. A nice added touch indicates the greenhouse gas emissions of your car.

While it’s certainly not possible for everyone to park their car, some of us could and the savings are substantial. There are many alternatives from cabs and public transit to car-pooling.

There are also various car-sharing options such as Zipcar or the Carsharing Association that lists a host of members operating in cities across Canada and the U.S.

We do love our vehicles but the price for operating one is certainly an incentive to consider a car-free life.

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