New or Used?

New or Used?

One of your key decisions will be whether to buy a new or a used vehicle. Newer vehicles tend to be more fuel efficient than older models. The extra purchase price could be offset by reduced fuel costs and the peace of mind that comes with owning a vehicle that is covered by a manufacturer's warranty.

If you're buying a new vehicle, check the EnerGuide label for its fuel consumption rating. EnerGuide labels are affixed to all new passenger cars and light-duty vehicles (not exceeding a gross vehicle weight of 3855 kg / 8500 lb.) sold in Canada. If a vehicle does not have an EnerGuide label, ask the dealer for a copy or ask for the manufacturer's approved fuel consumption rating for that vehicle.
Check the EnerGuide label on all new vehicles. Fuel-efficient driving starts in the dealer's showroom.

Fuel consumption ratings are determined in a controlled laboratory setting, using government-approved methods, to ensure that all vehicles are tested under identical conditions. Although your vehicle's actual fuel consumption will depend on many factors (including how and where you drive, the season and local conditions, and the mechanical condition of your vehicle), these ratings are an excellent tool for comparing different vehicles on the basis of their fuel consumption and estimated annual fuel costs.
How big is big enough?

One of your first and most important decisions is: What size vehicle do you need? Your range of choices is impressive. Can you get by with a fuel-efficient subcompact vehicle, or do you need a van, a pickup truck or maybe even one of the popular sport utility vehicles?

It's always a good idea to avoid buying a bigger vehicle than you need because larger vehicles tend to be heavier and have more powerful engines. That combination results in increased fuel consumption and operating costs. As a rule, bigger vehicles are also more expensive to buy, so you get hit twice as hard in the pocketbook.

Begin by asking yourself how much space you normally need. Consider all your needs, including passengers, luggage, tools and sports equipment. If you regularly carry three passengers or more, a four-door mid-size sedan makes sense. If you usually travel alone, a two-door subcompact car can fit the bill and is more economical. The same holds true for luggage, work supplies, groceries and so on. Do you really need the cargo space of a minivan or pickup truck, or would a hatchback or small station wagon do the job?

Buying a big vehicle to accommodate extra passengers or a heavy, bulky load once or twice a year could be an enormous waste of money. Why not install a trailer hitch instead, or rent a bigger vehicle on the few occasions that you need one? The money you will save by driving a smaller vehicle the rest of the year could more than pay for the cost of the rental. And you'll be saving wear and tear on your own vehicle at the same time. Do you really need a van or sport utility vehicle for daily commuting? Don't buy a gas-guzzler just because other people do. Generally speaking, the smaller and lighter the vehicle, the more fuel efficient it will be.
Manual or automatic transmission?

Your vehicle's transmission transfers the power and torque generated by the engine to the drive wheels of the vehicle. Your choice of transmission will directly affect the cost of the vehicle and its fuel consumption.

As a general rule, a manual transmission with overdrive, combined with a tachometer or shift indicator, is more fuel efficient than an automatic, and it's also usually cheaper to buy. By shifting a manual transmission properly, you can expect to use 5 to 10 percent less fuel than with an automatic transmission. The manual advantage tends to be greatest on small cars with four-cylinder engines.

There are exceptions to this rule. With certain vehicles, an automatic transmission may in fact be more fuel efficient than a manual transmission. The best way to check is with Natural Resources Canada's , which provides fuel consumption ratings for both types of transmissions.
For a typical driver, proper use of a manual transmission can save at least 100 litres of fuel a year 每 more than two fill-ups.

When you're deciding what kind of transmission to get, you should also be aware of your driving patterns. If most of your driving is on the highway, you can generally get the best fuel economy with a manual transmission, assuming that you use proper shifting techniques. If you have problems with the clutch or don't use the gears to their best advantage, your fuel and cost savings could be lost.

For city driving, or if you're not confident in your ability to handle a manual transmission, an automatic transmission may be a better choice. Generally speaking, with an automatic transmission the vehicle becomes more fuel efficient with a larger number of gears. This is because the extra gears are better able to keep the engine running at or near its most efficient level.

Typically, a four-speed overdrive transmission will be 3 to 5 percent more fuel efficient than a three-speed transmission. Overdrive gears decrease engine speed while maintaining vehicle speed, so you enjoy a triple windfall: lower fuel consumption, reduced engine wear and less engine noise. Some automakers even offer five-speed automatics, which can improve fuel efficiency by another 3 percent over a four-speed transmission.

When purchasing a vehicle with an automatic transmission, for maximum fuel economy consider an electronically controlled transmission with overdrive and a lock-up torque converter. The use of electronics has enabled engineers to design transmissions that precisely match power and torque requirements to engine speed. This improves fuel efficiency and makes for a smoother drive. The torque converter lock-up mechanism permits a direct mechanical connection to make the power transfer (as with a manual transmission). It can improve fuel economy by 2 to 3 percent. In addition, the more gears, the better.

When buying a vehicle with an automatic transmission, the Auto$mart choice is one with at least four gears, electronic controls and a lock-up torque converter. Another new development is the continuously variable transmission (CVT), a form of automatic transmission that uses belts and pulleys instead of gear wheels to allow an infinite number of gears. Although these transmissions are not commonly found in vehicles in Canada, they have achieved some success in reducing fuel consumption in Europe.
Do you need four-wheel drive?

You sometimes have a choice of front-wheel, rear-wheel, four-wheel or all-wheel drive. But the choice need not be confusing. Here's what you need to know from a fuel efficiency perspective.

By far most passenger cars and minivans sold today are front-wheel drive. Because there is no need for an axle to run from the transmission to the rear wheels, this configuration offers better traction and generally provides more interior room than rear-wheel drive. Although front-wheel drive was originally adopted to improve fuel economy by reducing the weight and size of cars without sacrificing driving qualities or interior space, today there is not much difference in fuel economy between the two types.

Four-wheel drive is engaged by the driver when extra traction is needed. It is usually found on pickups and sport utility vehicles. It offers superior traction and braking under slippery conditions, but it can increase fuel consumption by 5 to 10 percent compared with two-wheel drive vehicles because of the weight and friction of the additional drivetrain parts.

Another option, all-wheel drive, is found on some sport utility vehicles and a handful of passenger cars. Full-time all-wheel drive is your least fuel-efficient choice because all four wheels are always being "driven," or drawing power from the engine.
What size engine do you need?

When you purchase a new vehicle directly from a dealership, you may have more than one choice of engine. All other things being equal, the larger the engine (the greater the volume of the cylinders) and the more cylinders it has, the greater its fuel . In addition, smaller engines usually cost less.

That does not mean that a bigger engine is never a good choice. For some applications, a larger, more powerful engine may be the most fuel-efficient option. If you often tow heavy loads, for example, a small engine may burn more fuel because it must operate beyond its most fuel-efficient range.

Under normal driving conditions, smaller engines deliver better fuel economy than larger engines. Choose the smallest engine that meets your everyday needs.

Vehicles with smaller, turbocharged engines can be efficient and may deliver some fuel and cost savings. However, most buyers select one of these devices to increase power output from a car's normal-size engine 每 a choice that tends to increase fuel consumption, especially if you frequently take advantage of the higher performance you've paid for.

Comparison of Engine Size and Fuel Consumption(Based on data from the )
Engine size
Annual fuel consumption (20000km)
Annual fuel cost ($0.68/litre)
Annual savings from smaller engine

Mid-sized car


Sport utility vehicle
2.0 litre


Pickup truck
2893 litres


*Note: Figures are rounded to the nearest litre and dollar amount.
Are you willing to pay a fuel penalty for all those extras?

Most new cars are available with a wide array of options, ranging from air conditioning to power windows to automatic seat warmers. If you're a "bells and whistles" type of person, you may want everything that's available. But there are two costs to consider: the purchase price of the option itself and the ongoing cost of increased fuel consumption.

Most options increase fuel consumption in one of three ways: by adding weight, by increasing aerodynamic drag or by drawing extra power either directly from the engine or through the alternator (which in turn is driven by the engine). Some may do all three.

Let's begin with "power" equipment. The electricity drawn by power seats, sunroofs, windows, mirrors and door locks is relatively insignificant, in part because they are operated only briefly. Options that produce heat or light (such as seat heaters or fog lights) can be more of a drain on the alternator. If you select any of these options, use them only when necessary. Keep in mind that extra weight affects fuel consumption. Although power seats and power sunroofs don't consume much power, they are among the heavier options.
Power seats can add 40 to 60 kilograms to a 1200-kilogram vehicle, resulting in a 2 to 3 percent increase in fuel consumption.

As for power windows and mirrors, the extra energy they require from the engine increases fuel consumption. Heated seats add weight and require significant electrical energy. With the extra weight and the higher electricity demand, the engine must burn more fuel.

When considering power options, ask yourself whether the increased comfort or convenience they provide is worth the increase in fuel consumption.

Remote car starters encourage people to start their cars before they are ready to drive them. This promotes unnecessary idling, which wastes fuel and harms the environment.

In regions of Canada where summer temperatures are hot and humid, air conditioning is a popular option. It can also be costly. Air conditioning saps power from the engine in two ways 每 mechanically, to operate the compressor, and electrically, to run the blower motor. Operating an air conditioner can increase fuel consumption by more than 20 percent in city driving. Acceleration is also affected. Because the power required by the air-conditioning system is relatively constant, the smaller the engine, the greater the impact on fuel consumption.

Some vehicles have automatic climate control systems. They keep the air-conditioning compressor on all the time (even in winter) to reduce the moisture content of the air in the car. These systems can increase fuel consumption by about 5 percent, so if you are in the market for one of these vehicles, look for a climate control system that has an "economy" mode.

If you are buying a passenger van, you should be aware that some models have optional heating/air-conditioning booster systems for the rear seats. If the system consists of only an extra blower motor in the rear, it won't have much effect on fuel consumption. Another type of system, however, adds a second air-conditioning unit for the rear, almost doubling the impact on fuel economy.
Options for fuel efficiency

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

Air conditioning can increase fuel consumption by 20 percent in city driving because of the extra load placed on the engine. A good ventilation system reduces the need to drive with the air conditioning on or the windows open. Open windows or sunroofs can be a fuel-saving alternative to air conditioning at low, city speeds, but they increase aerodynamic drag and fuel consumption on the highway. Some sunroof designs have a tilt function that boosts ventilation and has little effect on the vehicle's aerodynamics.
In city driving, an open sunroof can help replace the air inside the car as you drive, thereby reducing the need to use the air conditioner. But be careful: at highway speeds, an open sunroof increases aerodynamic drag, which in turn increases fuel consumption.
Tinted glass, which blocks some of the sun's heat from entering the vehicle through its windows, can also reduce the need for air conditioning and help you save fuel. Tinted glass can be installed on any vehicle, new or used.
Over a five-year period, the difference between a car burning 13 litres of fuel every 100 kilometres and only 10 litres over the same distance is about $2,000 at 2004 gasoline prices, assuming average driving conditions and styles.

A block heater can significantly improve fuel economy and reduce harmful exhaust emissions. It heats the engine block and helps the vehicle start in cold temperatures. By enabling you to start a semi-warm engine, it can improve overall winter fuel economy by as much as 10 percent. It can also help warm up the vehicle's interior more quickly.
Aluminum wheels reduce weight and improve fuel economy.
Heavy-duty suspension systems improve handling and are stronger and longer-lasting than standard suspension systems. The extra weight, cost and fuel consumption are nominal.
Cruise control can help most drivers save fuel on the open road by keeping speed constant and preventing inadvertent speeding.
If you are purchasing a manual transmission, it might be a good idea to install a tachometer, which indicates engine speed. It can help you shift the transmission at the most fuel-efficient engine speeds. In some cars, a shift indicator light performs a similar function.
A roof rack 每 loaded or empty 每 can increase fuel consumption by increasing aerodynamic drag. In the case of permanent, factory-installed units, the drag may be minimal but it's always there. Removable roof racks may be a better option, since they cause more drag only when they're installed. Using a removable roof rack, you might also find that you can get by with a smaller car.
Some vehicles can be purchased with trip computers or navigation systems. Although trip computers don't directly affect fuel economy, they can show you how much fuel you are using and challenge you to do better. Navigation systems can save fuel by showing you the most direct route from point A to point B.

For more information on the cost of owning, driving and maintaining your vehicle, visit the Web site of the Canadian Automobile Association.
Learn about alternative fuels
Federal Alternative Fuel Programs

Natural Resources Canada provides information on alternative fuels and their use and benefits. Canada is recognized as a world leader in the development and use of these fuels. Today, there are more alternative fuel vehicles in use across Canada than ever. Alternative transportation fuels can provide economic advantages to users while delivering significant environmental benefits by producing less green house gas emissions. Find out how choosing propane, natural gas, ethanol, electricity and hydrogen . Will make a better future.
Future Fuel Initiative

The Future Fuel Initiative was established to increase the use of ethanol as a renewable transportation fuel that emits fewer greenhouse gases. Among other activities, the Initiative promotes and encourages the use of ethanol-blended gasoline, both low-level (up to 10 percent ethanol) and high-level (up to 85 percent ethanol 每 E-85) blends. Most vehicles today can use low-level blends, and flexible-fuel vehicles can use E-85.
Natural Gas for Vehicles

The Natural Gas for Vehicles Market Transformation Pilot Project provides financial contributions toward the purchase of vehicles that use natural gas 每 $3,000 for a medium-duty vehicle, $2,000 for a light-duty vehicle and $500 for a vehicle converted to natural gas. The program also provides a $500 contribution to the dealer selling the vehicle.