Driving experience is an asset, except when it’s time to go to the pump. New drivers enjoy a significant financial advantage over their older drivers thanks to eco-driving.
For several years now, the Société d’assurance Automobile du Québec (SAAQ) road safety program — essential for obtaining a driving license — has included notions of eco-driving. These are techniques that, if applied, reduce fuel consumption.
The potential savings are significant. In a pilot project conducted in early 2010 by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MERN), eco-driving reduced fuel consumption by 9.5% on the highway and by 11% in the city. If we apply these percentages to the $2,161 per year that Quebec households spend on gasoline on average, according to Statistics Canada, that means annual savings of more than $200.
The problem is that the vast majority of drivers in Quebec were trained prior to the 2010 SAAQ program redesign. So here’s, as a catch-up, a short theoretical course in eco-driving so you too can take advantage of these savings.
Lesson 1: go slow
If your car displays real-time fuel consumption, you’ve probably noticed how gas-guzzling sudden acceleration is. Simply stepping on the accelerator pedal gently instead of stepping on it reduces your car’s energy requirements. Ideally, according to Natural Resources Canada, it should take five seconds to accelerate to 20 km/h after coming to a stop.
Lesson 2: Anticipate
When driving in the city, 60% of your car’s fuel consumption is caused by acceleration. However, many of these are in vain due to the frequent stops and delays that are inevitable in urban environments.
Indeed, if you go to top speed after a deceleration and then have to brake quickly a few hundred meters further on, you are burning petrol for nothing. By anticipating upcoming stops, you avoid unnecessary acceleration and in many cases you arrive at your destination just as quickly, as can be seen in the MERN video below.
Lesson 3: slow down
The faster a car drives, the more fuel consumption decreases. According to Natural Resources Canada, fuel consumption at 120 km/h is 20% higher than at 100 km/h!
However, driving at more than 120 km/h saves only about ten minutes over a distance of 100 km. And this time gain is completely erased if you are stopped for exceeding the speed limit…
Lesson 4: be consistent
On the highway, consistency is the best way to reduce your gas mileage. By always maintaining the same speed – ideally with cruise control – you avoid numerous small accelerations, as the video below illustrates well.
Lesson 5: lose weight
The more loaded a car is, the more energy it takes to move it forward. If you’re the type to lug all the unnecessary trinkets in the trunk of your vehicle, you might need a little cleaning…
This advice also applies to luggage racks and ski or bicycle racks, which not only increase the weight of your car, but also significantly reduce aerodynamics and thus energy efficiency. If they are empty, it is better to delete them.
Lesson 6: give space
Always leave a few seconds distance between you and the vehicle in front of you on the road. If it slows down, you’ll have plenty of time to change lanes while maintaining your steady speed. If you follow it too closely, you have no choice but to brake…which requires acceleration later on.
Lesson 7: giving air
Insufficiently inflated tires increase resistance to the road and thus fuel consumption. The MERN recommends checking the tire pressure with a pressure gauge every month. You can get one for under $10.
Lesson 8: Keep in mind that what goes up comes down
The MERN advises against maintaining a constant speed on a slope, as this consumes a lot of energy. It is better to try to maintain the engine speed. When descending, you lose speed, but you regain it automatically, without having to accelerate.
Lesson 9: Taming the Cold
In the winter, using a block heater a few hours before departure can cut your fuel consumption by 15% on trips less than 20km, according to a study conducted by CAA Quebec. You should also know that there is no point in starting your car in advance; just run the engine for 30 seconds to be ready to face the cold effectively!
Ready for the test?
Well, eco-driving isn’t more complicated than that! As with any behavior change, the real challenge is to apply it consistently, without giving up.
During the MERN pilot project, the motivation of the participants dropped significantly after a few months. It must be said that these were employees of the company, and that they therefore did not pay for the petrol out of their own pocket…
If this can motivate you more, know that the principles of eco-driving can also help you lower your auto insurance premium if your program adjusts costs to suit your driving style. Driving slowly and suddenly accelerating and avoiding sudden braking are indeed safe behaviors that insurers like to observe.