By Jim Kerr

High fuel prices are draining our pocketbooks quicker than ever. Some of the money we spend on fuel goes to Governments as taxes. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Federal Government will bring in an estimated six billion dollars this year in fuel excise tax and GST revenue on that tax. As these figures were based on fuel that was still below $1.00 a litre, the revenue is likely to be much higher. Government of Canada Department of Finance figures show that Canadians pay an average of 33.2 cents per litre in total taxes, based on $1.00 a litre fuel, where the Federal excise tax is 10% and Provincial excise tax averages 14.5% (from a low of 6.2% in the Yukon to a high of 21.3% in P.E.I.).

Out of that revenue, only a small percentage goes to maintaining our roads and highways. For 2005/2006, Ottawa targeted 17% of that revenue for road construction and maintenance. The amount Provincial governments set aside for road maintenance varies widely across the country. Why am I concerned about the small amount dedicated to our infrastructure? Because it greatly affects the amount of fuel your vehicle uses and the dollars we have left in our pockets.

While there are many factors that affect fuel economy, such as vehicle frontal area, engine displacement, driving style and weather conditions, rolling resistance on the road also affects economy greatly. It is easy to imagine that it takes more power and therefore more fuel to keep a vehicle moving in soft sand than it would on a paved highway, but even the finish on that paved highway makes a difference too.

According to research figures from Ford, concrete road surfaces offer the least rolling resistance. Canada does not have a large amount of concrete roads, favouring asphalt surfaces to endure our winter conditions. My travels in the U.S. on concrete highways have shown me that along with low rolling resistance, they also tend to develop waves at joints over the long term. Drivers of concrete roadways will be very familiar with the annoying rhythmic “thump -thump-thump” as the tires roll over the joints. I would gladly pay the slight penalty of increased rolling resistance for travelling on asphalt instead of concrete. How much increase? Smooth asphalt, when compared to concrete is the equivalent of climbing a 1.25% grade.

Rough, but still good asphalt however, creates the equivalent of driving up a 1.75% grade while poor asphalt is equal to climbing a 2.25% grade. Imagine how much easier our vehicles would roll and how fuel economy would improve if we were driving on smooth asphalt instead of the rough roads I find in my part of the country.

It is not only cold temperatures that decrease winter fuel economy. Driving on 2 inches (5 cm) of snow is equivalent to climbing a 2.5% grade, while 4 inches (10 cm) of snow is equal to a 3.75% grade. Keeping those roads ploughed, especially in my neighbourhood would improve fuel economy tremendously.

Like to go off-roading? You pay for it. Even smooth dirt is equal to a 2.5% grade. Get into a little mud and the fuel gauge drops quickly. Ford found driving in mud was like driving up a 3.75% to 15% grade depending on the type of mud. I don’t know if you can imagine a 15% grade, but it feels like you are going straight up. No wonder it takes so much fuel!

Spending more money on improving our roads can have a huge impact on the amount of fuel used by vehicles all across the country. Lower driving costs, extending existing oil supplies and reducing emissions are all benefits of good roads. Don’t forget to do your part too – check tire pressures regularly and keep speeds down. This will show as fuel savings immediately.

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