Filling up at the pumps

10 ways to save money on gas

Here's some free advice: underestimate gas at your own risk.

When people buy cars, few of them realize just how expensive filling up can be over a long-term period. Heck, even over a short term period, it really starts to add up. Allow me to demonstrate.

Small cars can hold about 45.5 litres of gas total while larger ones can pack in about 60.5. For the sake of trying to represent some sort of accurate average, let's imagine you're the owner of a car whose tank can store the exact midpoint of those amounts, 53 L. Right now the national average for regular gas is 112.2 cents per litre. Filling up once at that rate would cost you $59.46. Even if you drive fairly conservatively and only need to refill your tank once every two weeks, that's a $1545.96 annual cost. Go through a few years of that and you've already spent more than most do on used cars in total!

Obviously those amounts will differ on a case by case basis, but the bottom line is that gas takes a serious toll on your finances. That said, there are lots of simple ways to cut down on your gas expenses. Buckle up and read on to find out what they are.

1) Drive less

This is the simplest and most effective method of saving money on gas, yet it often goes overlooked. People get caught up in routines and develop habits that are hard to break. They also tend to go about their daily lives without looking at the big picture.

If you're taking car trips to accomplish tasks that could be checked off without them, maybe it's in your best interests to reconsider. Sure, taking the car is great for a big grocery run, but is it totally necessary for driving to the friend's house on a gorgeous day where you could walk/bike/roller blade/take transit instead? Think a little bigger, and perhaps you don't even need your car for commuter purposes—or perhaps you should restructure your life to avoid having to drive to work. The benefits will show up in your wallet and your health.

2) Source out cheap stations

All gas stations are not created equal. Depending on the area you live in, you can typically save at least five cents per litre by sourcing out a better fill-up location—or at least the best one in the moment.

Thankfully we live in the Internet age and you don't have to do all the legwork yourself. There are a few different apps and websites out there that show users up-to-date gas prices at all the locations in their area. GasBuddy in particular stands out. Not only does it have comprehensive listings and comparisons between regions across North America, it has an extremely active community of users who contribute their insights to the gas market and have the opportunity to win free gas in frequent raffles.

3) Reduce warm up times

It's good to warm up the car a bit before you drive, especially in the winter. However, if warm ups start turning into some kind of lethargic ritual, then that's a red flag.

Modern cars warm up fairly quickly. You shouldn't need more than 30 seconds to a minute to get it going. Once you get past that, you start unnecessarily burning fuel.

4) Cut down on A/C and open windows

Don't take this advice to its extreme. If it's the hottest day of the year and you're stuck in traffic, it would be cruel to deny yourself the luxury of some temperature relief.

But unfortunately, both air conditioning and open windows are factors that hurt your fuel economy. The former simply uses more fuel while the latter increases drag and wastes fuel by slowing you down.

This inevitably leads to the question: which burns through fuel more quickly? Mythbusters actually did an episode on the topic, and as it turns out, keeping the windows down is a slightly better alternative than cranking up the A/C.

5) Tie in rewards points to gas purchases

Getting a better deal on future purchases—gas or otherwise—is a sneaky good way to save money on gas. Lots of gas stations have rewards programs of their own, while some of them also partner with other companies to offer points that go towards their rewards programs. One notable example of this is the alliance between Shell and Air Miles.

6) Choose better routes

Back in the day, if you had a choice between two routes and ended up picking the one that was completely congested with traffic, then it sucked, but there was nothing you could've really done about it. Nowadays, lots of apps exist to give you real-time updates on how busy a certain road or expressway is. You have nobody to blame but yourself if you end up in a morass of traffic. Do yourself a favour and download an app like Waze. Planning ahead makes all the difference.   

7) Keep it light

Just as you will run out of energy faster with a massive load on your back, a car will run out of fuel faster with bulky items inside of (or on top of) it. Heavy loads also shorten the longevity of the car. When there isn't a clear need for them, just clear out the trunk, back seats, and exterior and keep things light.

8) Maintain your ride

Slacking off on car maintenance is an easy trap to fall into. Nobody (except car aficionados) wants to be regularly thinking about engine tune-ups or motor oil changes or filter replacements. Yet taking care of these and other maintenance needs will allow a car to run smoother and use fuel more efficiently.

9) No idling

Idling happens to us all the time. When we park outside a grocery store as our companion goes into grab something quick and ends up getting caught in a 10-person line. When we're picking up someone but he or she takes forever to say goodbye. When we're in a busy parking lot and can't back out because cars are constantly driving by behind us.

While these moments are rarely of our own doing, they're still horribly inefficient uses of fuel. Whenever possible, just turn the car off if you know that you'll be waiting for at least a couple of minutes.

10) Steady driving

A driving instructor will emphasize that you should accelerate and brake steadily. Unless another driver's mistake has led to a potential crash that can only be avoided by stopping or gunning it on a dime, then driving steadily is also the best option from a safety perspective.

What driving instructors might not tell you is abrupt maneuvers are a classic way to burn fuel faster. Hitting either of those speed extremes calls for greater amounts of fuel. So instead of making a habit of them, just chill out and drive more calmly.