Buying Tips

Top Buying Tips

Shop smart to save fuel—and money—for years to come. Use the following eight tips to sort through the dozens of makes and models on the market and find the most fuel-efficient vehicle to meet your needs. Download and print these tips to take to the dealership with you.

  1. Remember: the smaller, the better.

    How many passengers do you usually drive? How much space do you normally need for tools, groceries, luggage, sports equipment and other cargo? Choose the smallest vehicle that can accommodate your everyday driving needs. Small vehicles are often cheaper and more fuel-efficient than their bigger brothers—saving you money in the showroom and on the road. On the rare occasions you need to transport more passengers or gear, consider using a trailer or renting a bigger vehicle. The money you save on everyday use of a smaller vehicle should more than cover rental costs.

  2. Consider a manual transmission.

    As a rule, manual transmissions are more fuel efficient than automatic ones, especially when used with a tachometer or shift indicator. There are exceptions, however. Check Natural Resources Canada's Fuel Consumption Guide for the fuel-consumption ratings of vehicles that come with either type of transmission.

  3. Gear up an automatic transmission.

    If you opt for an automatic transmission, remember: the more gears, the better. Generally speaking, extra gears are better able to keep the engine running at or near its most efficient level. To get the most gear ratios possible, consider a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs use belts and pulleys to allow for an infinite number of gears.

  4. Simplify your drivetrain.

    Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive offer superior traction under slippery conditions. But there’s a tradeoff. The weight and friction of their additional drivetrain parts can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent as compared with two-wheel drive vehicles. All-wheel drive is your least fuel-efficient choice because all four wheels continually draw power from the engine. Four-wheel drive engages all four wheels only when extra traction is needed. Consider two-wheel drive to optimize your vehicle’s fuel-efficiency and save money at the pump.

  5. Rein in the horsepower.

    Generally, the bigger the engine the more fuel it consumes. For example, a mid-sized car with a two-litre, four-cylinder engine burns about 2,066 litres every 20,000 kilometres. The same car with a three-litre, six-cylinder engine burns 2,244 litres—178 litres more.

    Sometimes, however, a larger, more powerful engine is the more fuel-efficient option. Towing heavy loads, for example, can cause a small engine to operate beyond its most fuel-efficient range and burn more fuel.

  6. Avoid unnecessary extras.

    Many extra features increase the amount of fuel a vehicle consumes by adding weight, increasing aerodynamic drag, or drawing extra power from the engine. Ask yourself whether the comfort or convenience these features provide is worth an ongoing increase in fuel costs.

    1. Power windows, seats, mirrors and doors

      The electricity drawn by power seats, windows, mirrors and door locks is relatively insignificant. Their added weight, however, is not. Power seats can add between 40 and 60 kilograms to a 1,200-kilogram vehicle, resulting in a two to three percent increase in fuel consumption.

    2. Remote car starter

      Remote car starters encourage people to start their cars before they are ready to drive them and this wastes fuel.

    3. Air conditioning

      Air conditioning saps energy from a vehicle’s engine. As a result, air conditioning can increase fuel consumption by more than 20 percent under city driving conditions. Look for a system with an “economy” mode to help minimize the impact of air conditioning use.

    4. Permanent roof rack

      Even empty, a permanent roof rack increases aerodynamic drag and, by extension, the amount of fuel a vehicle must burn to move.

    5. Turbocharged engines

      Downsizing to a smaller engine with a turbocharger can be more fuel efficient. However, turbocharging a standard size engine to get more power increases fuel costs rather than saving them.

  7. Request fuel-efficient features.

    A number of inexpensive options can help you reduce fuel consumption, including:

    1. Aluminum wheels

      Aluminum wheels are lighter than conventional wheels. As a result, a vehicle doesn’t need to use as much energy to move them.

    2. Block heater

      A block heater heats a vehicle’s engine block, enabling you to start a semi-warm engine and improve your vehicle’s overall winter fuel economy.

    3. Cruise control

      Cruise control helps keep a vehicle’s speed constant, avoiding unintended slow downs and accelerations that increase the amount of fuel a vehicle consumes.

    4. Navigation systems

      Navigation systems show you the most direct route to your destination, saving you from wasting fuel on unnecessary and unwanted detours.

    5. Removable roof rack

      Removable roof racks are more environmentally friendly than permanent ones, because you can remove them when they are not in use—eliminating drag and saving fuel.

    6. Sunroof

      Open windows or sunroofs are a fuel-saving alternative to air conditioning at city speeds. Be aware, however, that most sunroofs increase aerodynamic drag and fuel consumption on the highway. Look for one that has a tilt function, which boosts ventilation without compromising a vehicle’s aerodynamics.

    7. Tachometer

      Tachometers indicate engine speed, letting drivers know when to shift a manual transmission for optimal fuel-efficiency.

    8. Tinted windows

      Tinted glass blocks some of the sun's heat from entering a vehicle, keeping you cooler without turning on the air-conditioning. Tinted glass can be installed on any vehicle, new or used.

    9. Trip computers

      Trip computers indicate the amount of fuel you use and challenge you to consume less.

  8. Visit the Canadian Automobile Association website.

For more information on the cost of owning, driving and maintaining your vehicle, visit the Canadian Automobile Association’s online home.