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Woman's legs are dangling out a car window during a summer road trip. (Photos.com)
Woman's legs are dangling out a car window during a summer road trip. (Photos.com)

Preet Banerjee

Five money-saving tips for those epic summer road trips Add to ...

Editor's note: This article first ran in July of 2013.

The summer driving season is here and given the massive expanse that is Canada, there is no shortage of places to visit.

The more people you can fit into your car, the more economical driving becomes. Fly a family of four and you’re on the hook for four potentially expensive tickets. That adds up. But driving a family of four requires little extra cost than driving yourself the same place.

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There are, however, some ways to save money even if you’re not at capacity. In that spirit, here are my summer road trip driving tips.

1.) Ensure your tires are full of air.
Properly inflated tires can increase fuel efficiency by a couple of percentage points. When people are willing to change their fuelling habits based on minute changes in prices at the pump, it’s mystifying that they don’t pay attention to their tires. Last week I heard a news update on the radio declaring an increase of 0.4 cents per litre of gas. On a 50 litre tank, that works out to 20 pennies. According to fueleconomy.gov, every 1 psi (pound per square inch, used to measure pressure) of under-inflation is equivalent to a drop in fuel efficiency of 0.3 per cent. If your tires are off by 10 psi, that could be the equivalent of prices going up by 3.9 cents per litre, or $1.96 per 50 litre tank, based on today’s national average price.

2.) Get your car tuned up.
Speaking of vehicle maintenance, when was the last time you had a tune up? Dirty spark plugs, arcing plug wires (when the rubber lining wears down and the exposed wire arcs to any nearby metal), and faulty oxygen sensors, to name a few, could seriously deplete your wallet. My first car was a 1991 Acura Integra which I bought with 100,000 km under her belt. One summer, I noticed that I was getting 100 km less per tank of gas than before. Turned out it was a faulty oxygen sensor. The computer defaulted to running a richer fuel mixture when it didn’t get a signal from that sensor. While that prevents the engine from detonating, it killed mileage. $100 for the new sensor and I was seeing an increase in mileage of over 20 per cent.

3.) Drive with care.
Once your car is in tip-top shape, you can coax out further savings by how you operate it. Avoiding sudden acceleration and gently reducing speed over a longer distance when approaching a stop sign or red light can do wonders. Actually driving the speed limit not only saves on the cost of a ticket, it can also dramatically reduce your gas consumption. I experimented with that same old Integra by driving on the highway at the speed limit, as well as with the flow of traffic, which was realistically about 120 km/h. Cruising at the slower speed netted an increase of almost 100 km per tank. It was a bit painful at first, seeing everyone and their mother passing me (on the left lane which is reserved for passing, remember), but after a while, the savings compensated more than nicely.

4.) Turn off that smartphone.
Technology wise, it’s important to check your mobile device before crossing into a roaming zone. The bill for texting when you don’t have the right plan can make your gas bill seem trivial. Your smartphone navigation app might also require a data connection than can pile up in a hurry. If it’s possible, try to download a map before your travel that can be cached on the device so that it will work without a data connection.

5.) Get roadside coverage.
And finally, when travelling long distances, it’s a good idea to have roadside coverage. If you don’t already have coverage, plans like those from CAA might not only give you peace of mind, but can also offer discounts on certain hotel chains that you might use while on your trip. For me, the membership discounts have paid for the membership itself, so I’m a fan.

Many people’s fondest vacation memories invariably include an epic road trip. With these tips, perhaps more people will turn to the open road for an adventure this summer.

Got your own money-saving tip? Add it to the comments.

Preet Banerjee, a personal finance expert, is the host of Million Dollar Neighbourhood on The Oprah Winfrey Network. You can read his blog at WhereDoesAllMyMoneyGo.com and follow him on Twitter at @preetbanerjee.

Follow on Twitter: @preetbanerjee

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