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5 entries from July 2015

Gas Prices and Long Weekend Prices Refresher

Long Weekend gas prices

We've been getting a lot of questions this summer about fluctuating gas prices - and with the long weekend coming up, we're fielding the usual "Why do gas prices seem to go up right before a long weekend?" questions as well. So we thought we'd take this opportunity to discuss both topics in one post!

First of all, when it comes to long weekend gas prices, the idea that the price of gas is being artificially inflated right before a long weekend to cash in on holiday travel is a myth. Whether the price is going up or down, gas prices are always determined by the following (via Natural Resources Canada):

  • Changes in world crude oil prices
  • Availability of supply to meet demand
  • Local competition among retailers
  • Seasonal demand, i.e. the annual spike in demand for gasoline during the summer driving season
  • Inventory levels

So what are some of the factors affecting gasoline prices this summer in particular? We got an update from our pricing team to give us some insight into the current state of gas prices.

1. The Canadian dollar. The world crude oil prices are lower recently and people want to know why they're not seeing those savings at the pump. Part of the reason is that our Canadian dollar has dropped significantly. The world crude oil price has also dropped, but it is priced in U.S. dollars - because the Canadian dollar has lost several cents in recent weeks, the corresponding rise in price for us to purchase crude oil cancels out much of the decline in the world crude price.

2. Commodity prices. Gasoline, like sugar and oranges, is a commodity - meaning that the commodity market determines the wholesale price, not your local gas station owner. Commodity prices for gasoline in the U.S. have remained relatively high over the past few weeks because of surging summer demand (miles driven is up sharply in the U.S.) and there have been some refinery issues this summer which have led to a tight supply. High demand and low supply in the U.S. have a corresponding impact on Canadian prices.

3. Tax increases. There have been some significant tax increases on gasoline in certain regions this year, for example in Alberta, and because of the Cap and Trade system introduced in Quebec.

4. Regional differences in pricing. Obviously pricing will vary from region to region based on supply, demand, local taxes and local competition between gas stations. Here in Vancouver, for example, gas is usually at least 15¢ more per litre than in my hometown of Edmonton, because provincial fuel taxes are higher and our municipality charges a significant transit tax on gasoline. For more information about how local taxes affect gas prices in your province, check out Petro-Canada's page about gasoline taxes across Canada.

5. Perception. When gas prices fluctuate frequently, it's frustrating but it may not represent a trend towards consistently higher pricing. Based on Kent Marketing's analysis of gas prices a few weeks ago, the average price of gasoline in Canada is still lower this year than last year (see graphic below).

Gas prices year over year

For more information about how gas prices work, visit our Gas Pricing archive here on PumpTalk or our FAQs on Gas Prices. And for ways to save on gas and increase your own fuel efficiency, check out the Ways to Save on Fuel infographic.


Monthly Poll: What's the biggest vehicle you've ever driven?

The biggest vehicle you've ever driven

One of the key questions in our post about Choosing the Right RV for your Summer Road Trip last week was: How comfortable are you driving large vehicles?

I am personally in awe of bus drivers and other folks who can confidently manoeuvre really big vehicles. I don't have the greatest track record with SMALL vehicles - witness me crashing a golf cart into a palm tree in my youth - so I shudder to think of the damage I could do with a really big truck. I couldn't believe it when my friend Giselle told me it was her dream to drive a semi truck (she got her chance on tour in Scandinavia, of all places). And my hat is off to my cousin Austin, who drives truck for a living.

I couldn't imagine anyone driving a bigger vehicle than a semi - and then I came across some photos of the monster two-storey trucks our heavy equipment operators drive in the oil sands. Take a look at this video of one of these giant trucks having a tire change. You need a ladder to climb up to the cab!

Over to you! Obviously these vehicle categories are rather broad, but you get the idea - what's the largest vehicle you've ever driven?

Don't see the largest vehicle you ever drove on the list? Tell us about it in the comments!


Choosing the Right RV for Your Summer Road Trip

RV road trip

One of my favourite memories as a kid was when my parents rented a RV and took us kids "camping" at Elk Island Park. We looked at buffalo, we swam, we got covered in leeches, we had our leeches removed, we had hot dogs and roasted marshmallows around the fire. And then at the end, instead of sleeping on the ground, like chumps, we all got to sleep in beds! INSIDE!

The RV was so magical that even when we came home, my brother and I begged to be allowed to sleep in it on the last night before it had to go back to the rental place. And then the next morning we begged to be allowed to eat our breakfast at the little table. We planned our next trip over bran muffins and juice boxes, in the RV, sitting in our driveway. The possibilities seemed endless.

RVs have come a long way since the '80's and there are a myriad of options to choose from, from simple tent trailers to behemoth buses with fireplaces and bathtubs. Here are some basic questions to consider when you're thinking about renting a summer adventure vehicle.

Drive-able, Tow-able or Truck Camper?
There are three main types of RVs - trailers, truck campers and motorized RVs. Truck campers are portable units which you can affix to the bed of your pick-up truck. Trailers - from folding tent trailers to conventional travel trailers - can be towed with a regular car or SUV; the larger "fifth-wheel" trailers are designed to be towed with a pick-up truck. With the trailers, one advantage is that once you reach your destination, you can set up your trailer, then unhook your vehicle and drive around for shorter trips. Of course, with a motorized RV, you can always tow your vehicle behind the RV and do the same thing!

If you're planning on towing a trailer, make sure you know the maximum weight your vehicle can tow (you can find out from your owner's manual) before you fall in love with a trailer that's too heavy.

Are you used to driving large vehicles?
This is probably the most important question to ask yourself. RVing is only fun when you don't repeatedly end up in a ditch, get stuck under a low bridge or have to handle a tricky exit from a parking lot. The largest class of motorized RV, Class A vehicles, are about the size of a Greyhound bus. If that seems like too much to handle, consider choosing a smaller vehicle you're more confident you can drive; either a Class B, which is basically a wide-bodied van or a Class C, the mini-motorhome you see in the picture above. RVs up to a certain size don't generally require a special license - check out the licensing body in your province for information.

How many people are coming with you? And how much do you like them?
Sometimes a trailer or motorized RV that says it "sleeps six" means "six people on top of each other like sardines" or "two adults, four tiny children". Figuring out how much personal space you and your travel companions absolutely need in the RV can help you determine what RV fits you best. In the end, size may not matter as much as floorplan. You might not need a Class A bus - just a Class C with a floorplan that suits your needs.

Are you mostly driving and stopping or mostly staying put?
If you're taking a trip where you're driving and stopping frequently along the way, it's smart to choose a more utilitarian vehicle that you feel comfortable driving and fuelling up a lot. If, on the other hand, you're driving to a destination where you plan to spend the majority of your holiday, you might want to try out a more luxurious ride, the kind with slide-out expansions and awnings and a built-in grill.

Are you stopping at campgrounds (with electrical and water hook-ups) or in the untamed wilderness?
If you're staying places where it will be easy to refill your water tanks/power up your vehicle, then you probably don't need to worry too much about the size of the water tanks in your RV. If you're driving out to the wilderness for an extended stay, however, it pays to be water conscious. Look into vehicles that offer larger tanks/better water efficiency. Keep in mind that the longer your trip, the more grey water and black water you'll be accumulating, which has to be emptied at special RV dump facilities (although if you're renting, many rental places will simply charge a dump fee and take care of it for you).

What kind of experience to you want to have?
Or, in other words, how at one with nature do you want to be? Do you basically want to camp without the hassle of setting up a tent or do you want the dishwasher and 40 inch TV with built-in beer fridge? Even the smallest RV options come with various levels of luxury.

In the end, best advice is generally "take the least amount of RV you need". If you don't have a ton of RV experience, keeping it simple is definitely the way to go. For more information on types of RVs, check out GoRVing.

Are you an RV addict? Have any tips to share with newbies? Leave them in the comments!

- Rose R.


The Race is on to Win Free Gas for 50 Years!

Petro-Canada Free Gas for 50 Years Contest

The Amazing Race Canada, Season 3, kicked off last night and Petro-Canada is a sponsor again this year! I'm an Amazing Race nerd from way back, so I can't wait to see where this season takes the teams.

Last season was so exciting - when Alain proposed to Audrey in Paris…when we found out, as he blew past his competition on the horse track in PEI, that Mickey used to be a track star…when the teams had to learn how to correctly deal a game of Fan Tan in a casino in Macau…when Meaghan managed to complete a quarter drift in her Ultra 94-fueled Camaro SS almost on the first try - it was non-stop action from start to finish.

If you're not already a fan of The Amazing Race Canada, there are two great contests running this summer that may turn you into a one.

1. Free Gas for 50 Years 

Every time you swipe your Petro-Points card between now and September 27, 2015, you'll be entered for a chance to win one of 12 weekly prizes of free gas for a year or the Grand Prize of free gas for 50 years! Every time you swipe - fuel purchases, snacks, coffee, lottery tickets, slush - don't forget to swipe that card each time you visit a Petro-Canada.

BONUS: On every episode of The Amazing Race Canada, a secret code will be revealed. Enter that code online at FreeGasfor50.com before the Sunday after each episode and you'll get five additional entries in the contest. That's a lot of extra entries between now and September 27th, so make sure to either watch the show live or record it to get that secret code.

2. Fuel Your Favourite Team 

I liked most of the teams last year but my favourite team was Rex Harrington and his partner Bob. In the Fuel Your Favourite Team contest, you can vote for your favourite team once per day. Each time you vote, you'll be entered for a chance to win free gas for a year - and at the end of the race, the team with the most votes will also win free gas for a year (even if they get eliminated before the end of the race).

Keep up on the secret code and keep tabs on your favourite teams on The Amazing Race Canada every Wednesday at 9/8c on CTV. Who would you take with you as your teammate if you were on The Amazing Race Canada?

- Rose R.

 


Summer Road Trips: Car Seat Regulations Refresher

Rear-facing child safety seat

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine with a young toddler was giving me and another friend a ride to a party. A couple of days before, she and I had the following exchange via text.

Me: Oh, hey! It turns out B also needs a ride. Do you have room in your backseat for one more?

Her: No, sorry - the car seat is back there.

Me: Oh, right. Well, maybe you could just...

Her: Just what? Take it out? No, Rose. I can't just 'take it out'. Installing that thing nearly ended my marriage. That seat is staying in there until the kid outgrows it.

Me: ...I respect that.

Looking back, I should have had more sympathy. I don't have kids, but installing the backseat "bridge" so that our arthritic senior dog would quit slipping off the bench nearly caused me to torch it and the car - and that apparatus is FAR less complicated than installing a child safety seat.

Given how frustrating it can be to set up these kinds of things, I suppose it's not a huge surprise that, according to this article in Driving, between 80 and 90 percent of child car seats in Canada are installed incorrectly. But obviously, it is a huge problem. With summer road trip season upon us, now seems like a good time to make sure that your kids' car seats are up to code and installed correctly.

We did a post about car seat safety a couple of years back but in researching this article, I learned a few new things.

1. Car seats have expiry dates. Once this date has passed, they must be replaced - even if they look fine and have never been involved in a collision. It may seem like a big expense to replace a car seat just because it's expired, but car seats can take quite a beating from their tiny occupants; between UV ray damage from the sun, normal wear and tear and frequent changes to car seat regulations, staying on top of your car seat's expiry date is important.

2. Rear-facing seats. According to this article in the Huffington Post, 75 percent of parents in the U.S. switch from a rear-facing car seat to a front-facing seat too early. In the U.S., the recommended minimum age to switch to a front-facing seat is 2 years old. But in Sweden, where traffic fatalities are among the lowest in the world, kids can stay in rear-facing seats up until the age of four.

Transport Canada recommends basing your decision not on age, but on your child's height and weight. As long as they still meet the height and weight requirements of the rear-facing seat, it is safest to continue using that seat - even if it seems more convenient to switch to the front-facing seat.

3. Advisory notices and recalls. We mentioned in our previous article that importing a car seat from the U.S., where they can be less expensive, is illegal. Canada has some of the strictest child seat safety codes in the world and many car seat manufacturers outside of Canada don't conform to those codes. You can be fined for using a car seat that doesn't feature the National Safety Mark. Plus, if you purchase your seat outside of Canada, you may not find out if and when your model of car seat has been recalled, which is critical for your child's safety. Check out Transport Canada for the most recent car seat advisories.

4. Free classes on how to install your car seat. You have the manual. You have the internet. You have a degree in engineering. But you might still need some hands-on help to ensure you've got that seat installed right. The good news is that free classes on how to properly install your child safety seat are available across Canada. To find one near you, visit the Transport Canada site.

Here are some general tips from Transport Canada about the proper use of car seats: 

  • By law, kids must be buckled-up in a seat or restraint made for their weight, height and age. Read your provincial/territorial law for details.
  • Don’t rush to move your child up from one stage of seat to the next. As long they are still in the right weight/height range of the seat itself, they are safest in that seat.
  • Some child seats can be used for more than one stage. Read your car seat user guide for details (and to make sure you are using it correctly).
  • A snug harness means that only one finger should be able to fit between the harness and your child at the collarbone.
  • Do not leave loose items in your vehicle during a trip, as they may hit and hurt someone in a sudden stop.
  • Items that did not come with your new child seat (such as liners, trays or comfort straps) may not be safe to use. Contact the car seat manufacturer and ask if these items are safe to use with your new car seat.
  • The safest place for children 12 and under is the back seat of your car.

Did you struggle to install child safety seats in your vehicle? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.