9 ways to save money while driving

If a gas-powered car has filled the pump recently, you might be thinking of ways to get the most out of that expensive fuel tank.

With gas prices and inflation still rising on PEI, CBC News sought advice from PEI’s Director of Sustainability Derek Ellis, Steve Olmsted of CAA Atlantic and leadership educator Joe Byrne on how to save money while driving.

1. slow down

For those who want or need to keep driving, there are plenty of ways to save money that can accrue – and one of the most important is slowing down.

Our experts said that driving no faster than the declared speed limit, which in PEI is usually 80-90 km/h, will save fuel.

“Anything less, where we can, is a great idea in terms of fuel savings,” Olmsted said.

“Any extra weight in your car is basically things you have to spend your fuel money on, and tow,” says Steve Olmsted, director of social responsibility and advocacy at CAA Atlantic. (CBC News: Compass)

2. Gradually accelerate

Gradual acceleration from a stop rather than on the pedal is also a big gas saver. In fact, it’s number one on the federal government’s list of tips on fuel-efficient driving techniques.

“To be as fuel efficient as possible, take five seconds to accelerate your car up to 20 kilometers per hour from a stop. Imagine an open cup of coffee on the dashboard. Don’t spill it!” site says.

If your car is newer and displays fuel economy readings while driving, Ellis said you’ll soon see how much gas you waste on accelerating quickly. He uses this feature in his car to “play a game where you keep that number, measured in liters per 100 kilometres, as little as possible while driving.”

Olmstead suggests not only starting slower than stopping but also rolling back to a stop when it’s safe to do so.

Joe Byrne has been a driving coach for 12 years. He says he often walks or bikes rather than drives his car. (Provided by Joe Byrne)

3. Inflated tires

Having the right amount of air in your tires can be another great fuel saver. Find the appropriate number for your tires posted on your car door or in your owner’s manual, and add the air at the gas station.

Invest in a manual tire pressure gauge and at least check tires as the seasons change, Ellis said. Byrne also performs a visual check of his tires daily.

Remember to check the tire pressure when it’s cooler at the start of your outing.

4. Maintain your vehicle

Byrne said checking and maintaining fluids like coolant and oil in your car, and maintaining the engine, battery and transmission for optimal fuel consumption.

Changing winter tires to spring tires in time will improve fuel consumption by reducing rolling resistance, Olmsted said.

He added that your car should be checked regularly by a mechanic to ensure it is running smoothly. PEI mandates annual vehicle inspections, so a garage visit is already built in.

5. Stop slowing down

Ellis points out that many new vehicles will automatically shut off when you have been parked for any length of time, such as at light or while driving.

Natural Resources Canada says the average car wastes 300ml of fuel per 10 minutes at idle. (Peter McDermid/Getty Images)

“Anytime you stop to pick someone up or pick someone up, I think you should turn off the engine — recognizing that if the engine is running in an internal combustion car and you’re not moving, your fuel efficiency, mileage per gallon,” Ellis said.

Byrne’s rule is that if you have to wait more than 10 seconds, lock the car and you’ll save money. Watch the lights and you’ll see when you need to restart your car, he said – however, your car needs good maintenance to start like this.

6. Reduce the load and drag

Take golf clubs or bags of salt out of your trunk, and remove the roof and bike racks that increase traction.

It can be a little inconvenient but pulling it off costs money.

7. Plan your trip

Trip planning is important to reduce gases: If you have many chores, Byrne said, take one trip with multiple stops instead of several with one stop each.

Also, plan your route to reduce the amount of driving, and think about traffic patterns during certain times of the day.

Ellis said the PEI government will soon announce incentives for companies to install chargers for electric vehicles. (Shawn Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

8. Changing vehicles

Ellis highly suggests people who can afford to transition to an electric or hybrid electric and gas vehicle to save money on fuel.

“You’re looking for 60 to 80 percent savings in fuel and electricity versus gas,” he said.

Derek Ellis is PEI’s Director of Sustainability and is responsible for achieving PEI’s zero emissions goals. (CBC)

He acknowledges that there is a shortage of electric vehicles in the market at the moment, with waiting times of several months or longer for some models due to the COVID-19 manufacturing slowdown and gas prices in Prince Edward Island continuing to drive strong demand.

There’s also a higher upfront cost of about $45,000 (and up) for a new electric vehicle.

PEI offers a $5,000 discount on new or used electric vehicles, a $2,500 discount on plug-in hybrid vehicles — and offers a free Level 2 charger. The federal government also offers an additional $5,000 discount on any new electric vehicle. Ellis said about 400 islanders have used the incentive in the past year.

Since electric and hybrid cars are still more expensive than traditional gas-powered cars, you’ll need more cash up front, but higher gas prices will pay off soon. Ellis said he expects the price gap to narrow and be eliminated before the end of this decade.

“At that point, I think it wouldn’t be beneficial for the majority of the islanders to make the change,” Ellis said.

He added that new programs are being worked on to help more companies in Prince Edward Island install electric vehicle chargers.

The Civil Aviation Authority is also promoting electric vehicles, Olmsted said, given that members of the organization are interested in more sustainable transportation. The association offers test drives to members in electric vehicles.

9. Driving Less

“If you want to significantly reduce fuel costs, driving more often is really going to be impactful,” says Ellis, who is responsible for PEI reaching its ambitious zero-zero goals.

Charlottetown’s newest active transit route runs alongside the busy bypass highway. (Ken Linton/CBC)

“Bike or walk is an obvious answer, although it’s not always an option for people in rural or suburban areas.”

To encourage islanders to drive less, the government has spent money in the past few years on active transportation — it’s in the third year of a five-year plan to spend $5 million a year on active transportation projects — and recently expanded rural transportation on PEI

Byrne, who has been a driving instructor for 12 years, says making informed decisions about whether to drive is a great way to save. He points out that people in many places on PEI still cannot easily live without a car but that the development of cycling lanes was a step in the right direction.

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