Do Canadians Understand Their Fuel Consumption?

I’ll start by saying that among the mix of personality traits that I have, one is exceptionally “type A.” That particular trait is a continued habit of collecting my personal economic data, and boiling it down to something that I can comprehend.

Having a number that is broken down and comprehensible is very important to me. I could look at receipts and see that we had, say, $2000 worth of expenses last month, but unless I break that down into categories, it is somewhat meaningless to me. Without categories, I would be lost as to where our money is going.

I feel the same lack of understanding when talking to family or friends from Canada who talk about their fuel consumption. They tell me numbers, yet I have no idea what those numbers mean in real terms.

I first became aware of this difference when I was talking to my father a couple of year ago. He asked me how my car was on gas and I told him I get about 15 km to the litre. He was surprised, saying that wasn’t very good. I was surprised that he would say that for such a fuel-efficient car (which was 10 years old, to boot!). We quickly realized that we were talking in different languages. My father’s brain had taken my kilometres per litre and input it into a Canadian calculation of litres per 100 km. To him, my 15km/litre sounded like 15 litres/100km.

Fair enough. Two countries, two ways of calculating fuel consumption. If it was that easy I wouldn’t have a problem. But my question is, can someone who thinks about litres per 100 km really understand their fuel usage?

To be precise, I average 15.1 km/litre from September to June (July and August is all over the board and depends on my A/C usage). Knowing that, I find it very easy to ball-park my cost for going from A to B. For example, I live 7.4 km from job 1, and 8.2 km from job 2.  A round trip to and from job 1 costs me pretty much one litre of gas; a round trip to and from job 2 costs me just over one litre. In my monetary terms, that means that for each job, I am paying roughly 120 yen ($1.50) for my transportation.

Reversing the calculation for the standard Canadian way (here is a good post on how to do it), I can see that I use 6.6 litres per 100 km of driving. But that number doesn’t really help me out when trying to figure out the cost of a trip to the downtown core 4 km away. Maybe it’s just getting used to the number and mental calculation, but for me, kilometres per litre is a more digestible and practical number.

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9 responses to “Do Canadians Understand Their Fuel Consumption?

  1. Kilometers/Litre is a little easier to understand (like the American MPG). 6.6 is pretty good.

    Something else to keep in mind is that the true cost of transportation is significantly higher than the gas for most people, as depreciation is a high cost, as well as insurance, maintenance, and repairs. Once you add it all up, you could be looking at an average of 20-30 cents per kilometer if not more.

  2. To clarify, 6.6 litres/100 is pretty good 🙂

  3. Thanks for the comment, Kevin.
    Yes, I am VERY happy with my 15km/litre (6.6litres/100km). It is a remarkably fuel efficient car and it is now 12 years old!

    I’m going to miss it, as we’re looking to get a younger car by the end of the year. The model we’re looking at shouldn’t lose me too much on fuel consumption, though, as the engine uses almost the same technology… just a bit bigger car, so will have some drag on weight.

    I agree that the true cost of a car is much more that the cost of gas, and have a post of that nature in the pipeline. I’m lucky in that I bought the car from my father-in-law’s business for a price that I will be able to at least recoup on the sale/trade-in. He took the depreciation hit, but as a business owner, it was a good write-off for him.

  4. I agree that liters/100km is a little weird, but I’m used to it now. And I do think it makes fuel calculations simpler: it becomes multiplication instead of division. If I want to drive to Montreal, 500km away, and I get 6.6L/100km, then that’s 6.6*5 = 33L of gas.

  5. I like the L/100 km measurement, as Patrick says, it makes calculating your consumption a multiplication problem based on how far you drive, which is usually the controlled variable (hardly ever do I see fuel light junkies who want to calculate how far they can go on that last litre of gas). Also, consumption (L/100 km) figures are more directly comparable when looking across a wide range of cars than mileage (km/L) figures.

    For instance, a Prius at 4 L/100 km is twice as efficient as a Camry at 8 L/100 km, which is more efficient than an SUV at 12 L/100 km. And, the fuel savings difference going down each step is the same for all 3. In mileage terms, they’d be 25, 12.5, and 8.3 km/L resp. That makes the jump from the Camry to the Prius look like much more fuel would be saved, when it’s just an artifact of the inverse measurement.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Patrick.

    I think you’ve nailed it when you say that you are used to it. I became financially self aware after I came to Japan (where km/litre is the standard), so that’s what I became used to. I am very confident that I would get used to it too, were I back in Canada.

    For long distances you are probably correct that L/100km is effective, so I am glad that I calculated for both numbers. For me, though, I can’t even remember the last time I drove over 50km in a row, let alone 500.

    Geography is obviously an issue. Japan is FAR more compact. My home in Canada is in the country, so it is a 20km drive just to get to the grocery store. But here, the furthest I drive is to a contract teaching job 12km away; I walk to the grocery store.

  7. Hi Potato. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

    Haha. No, I’m not a junkie trying to figure out how far I can get on my last litre of gasoline. What I’m concerned with (and why I like to think in terms of km/L) is the cost of my commutes.

    If I want to go downtown for a few hours (4km away) I can quickly understand that I will be using about half a litre for my round trip plus about 4 bucks in parking. The bus will cost me about the same, but I would probably take the bus. If my wife and I go together, however, the car becomes a much cheaper option.

    It is also useful for me as half of my income is from self-employment. If I get a request to teach a one hour class for a certain price, knowing how much it will cost me in gas/parking is very important as it eats into my profits, or it allows me to quote a price that has transportation included.

    You are right that a common denominator is needed when comparing vehicles, and that is necessary for the Canadian consumer. Here in Japan, though, km/L is the standard, so this is the number I need to know.

    We are looking for a new car now, actually. Seeing 11km/L on the sticker immediately allow me to compare, and also tells me that should I buy that vehicle, my cost at the pumps would go up by about a third.

    In short, I agree with you that you need to know the standard of where you live when making comparisons, but I think that when other variables are removed (ie. not looking at other cars) km/L is a simple way to calculate short distance driving.

  8. Hi,

    I wrote that post you linked to, so, thanks for the shout out!

    I’m not entirely sure why we Canadians do things differently. When I wrote that post, it was shortly after I went car shopping, and I had noticed that all of the new cars were advertising using the L/100km calculation. In order to compare my car to the fuel efficiency of the new cars, I had to convert all my data into that particular fashion.

    I guess one of its greatest strengths is the easy by which I can guesstimate the fuel costs of a trip. I can easily get the fuel consumption of 1 kilometer by diving by 100, so I can easily multiply that number by my trip distance to get an estimate for the trip.

    Other than that, who knows! We’re a wee bit odd up here.

  9. Hi Alan. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
    Sorry for the delay in my response. I’ve been away from the blog recently.

    I’m sure I will get used to it once I move back to Canada. In any event, being aware of fuel consuption is a good habit to get into.

    Thanks for writing the original article.

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