Lorraine Explains: Will gas prices hijack summer vacation plans?

Polls say yes, but it depends on who you ask

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Will the cost of fuel kill your summer plans?

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You’re probably reading articles and surveys desperate to reflect the state of the country’s high fuel costs and the impact they will have as Canadians set out to celebrate our terribly short summer season. Pent-up frustrations and long-delayed vacations may be enough to keep many of us soldiering on, pump prices be damned.

Some surveys, like the one from Ipsos commissioned by Toyota for its annual Canada Summer Road Trip Survey, say that for 91 per cent of us, it will almost be holiday as usual, as while “more than half (53 per cent) of respondents stated that gas prices have had an influence on their road trip plans, 47 per cent say they are not affected.”

How does it break down across the country, according to the Toyota survey?

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  • 12% of British Columbians with access to a vehicle are road-trip warriors and plan to drive 11 to 24 hours to get to their road trip destinations.
  • 32% of Albertans prefer more spacious vehicles so that they can travel with more friends and family.
  • In the Prairies, 40% are planning to indulge their love for outdoors and go camping.
  • 28% of Ontarians are planning to take an international road trip.
  • Ready to hit the road no matter what, 45% of Quebecers say gas prices have not affected their plans at all.
  • 49% of Atlantic Canadians are planning to leave their province on their road trips this summer.

However, a Leger study for Tire and Rubber Association of Canada looks a little less sunny. “The survey finds that 66 per cent of drivers say fuel prices will force them to cancel or limit road trips this summer. Among young drivers aged 18 to 24 that number climbs to 75 per cent. ” See why you have to be careful about polls?

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What is certain is that if you’re a road tripper of any description, fuel is going to be a far larger portion of your holiday budget this year. That Leger survey nudges at what is likely the real discrepancy between those driving as usual and those sticking to home: many working younger drivers simply can’t bridge the gap between jacked-up fuel costs, while others have been at home cooling their travel heels and saving money. Toss in many working from home and saving a bundle on commuting costs, while those frontline workers who can’t do so are facing nosebleed costs with no offsetting savings in place.

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More people are taking a serious look at electric vehicles, though global shortages are very real in this segment too. Unless you ordered months ago, vehicles are scarce and prices are high. Once again, many people are going to be priced out of alternatives. That Toyota survey discovered over half the respondents would feel better about their vacation options if they were making the drive in a hybrid, PHEV, or full electric. That range anxiety is disappearing as gas price reality takes hold.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to make sure fuel costs don’t derail your plans. If you’re one of the lucky ones who won’t feel the impact, you might be able to help out someone you care about who is.

Wondering what happened to that gas relief rebate that was promised earlier this year?  Don't worry, it's still happening.
Wondering what happened to that gas relief rebate that was promised earlier this year? Don’t worry, it’s still happening. Photo by Nathan Griffiths /Postmedia News

When my kids head out on a road trip, I often swap cars with them. Sometimes it’s because my car is newer or more reliable and I don’t want them stuck far from home calling for a tow. Now I consider the fuel economy numbers, too. While it’s a suggestion that is better offered than asked for, it’s something to consider. If everybody is insured and has a valid driver’s license and permission, consider if you’re in a position to help.

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This can also apply if you have a larger vehicle. If there’s a debate about taking two vehicles because one won’t hold everyone, maybe you can lessen costs by offering a right-sized ride. I also tuck an in-case-of-emergency gas card in the glovebox, because I remember what it was like rolling home on fumes.

Know what fuel economy your vehicle gets before you set out. Most cars have a setting you can access and see in real-time what you’re consuming. Make the most of fuel-saving tips, but factor in that vacations don’t always go as planned. The most direct way to save money on fuel consumption is to simply slow down. Set your cruise control to 100km / h, get to the right-hand lane, and enjoy not jockeying for position with road warriors. Doing 120km / h sucks up 20 per cent more fuel.

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A view of Highway 20 as traffic passes through Beaconsfield.
A view of Highway 20 as traffic passes through Beaconsfield. Photo by Peter McCabe /MONTREAL GAZETTE

Car rentals are increasingly hard to come by. Many companies sold off large parts of their fleet at the start of the pandemic, and just like everyone else, they’ve found it difficult to acquire new vehicles. Check ahead if you’re flying somewhere, because not only will you be facing high fuel prices, but you’ll also be dealing with inflated rental rates – if you can find one. If you use one of the private car-for-hire websites, read the fine print and double-check your insurance.

No matter how the surveys differ, our roads will be crowded this summer. People are desperate to find “normal” again. I don’t blame them, but buckle up for budgets to take a hit on fuel costs as well as expenses like restaurant prices. This has been two pandemics: those with resources have come out ahead, and those without have borne a disproportionate amount of the pain. If you can help, do it.

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