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The difference between seasonal fuels and how to save at the pump

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If it seems like fuel prices jump every year just before summer starts, you’re not wrong.

Like clockwork, when the weather starts to improve, the price of fuel gets a bit more expensive, but it isn’t totally random.

Fuel formulas are changed to be optimized for driving in warmer weather and when it is changed back to the cold-weather formula in the fall, there’s a bit of relief when filling up as the price drops back down.

But what is the difference between the fuels, why do we need to change them twice a year and how can we minimize the sticker-shock when refilling? We’ve got you covered.

Why there are seasonal changes at the pumps

Every April and September, drivers are sure to notice significant price changes when filling their tank.

Gas stations are mandated to change to summer-grade fuel by April 15, which is when prices increase, then by Sept. 15, the gas stations are required to change to winter-grade fuel, which is when we see a drop in gas prices.

The key difference between winter and summer fuels lies in the fuel blend and the additives included to meet seasonal needs.

Fuel blends change depending on how temperature affects the fuel, and the main additive - also the main reason for the price change - is butane.

Butane, which is cheap and plentiful, is added to winter-grade fuel as it helps your vehicle start in colder temperatures.

However, butane also evaporates quite quickly, so it’s removed from the summer-grade fuels, as the rapid evaporation contributes to pollution and smog.

Using fuel optimized for the wrong season means it won’t burn as cleanly or effectively in your engine, but unfortunately, replacing that cheap butane with other additives to improve fuel performance in summer also increases the price at the pump.

Does this affect the grades of regular and premium fuels?

The qualities and benefits of different fuel grades aren’t impacted at all by the additives in seasonal fuel blends.

The difference between regular, mid-grade, and premium fuel relates to its octane rating, which ranges from 87 to 94, and that measures a fuel’s resistance to what’s called knock. Knock is when the fuel doesn’t combust at the precise, optimal moment, generally caused by high temperatures and pressure conditions in the engine.

Higher octane helps ensure the fuel works as it is meant to in optimal conditions.

How to limit sticker-shock at the pumps

Since we know the change between summer and winter fuels happens at the same time every year, set a reminder to keep an eye on the news for the specific dates those changes will happen.

Before the jump increases in April, make sure to fill your tank before the price goes up, and every September, hold off on filling up until the price drops.

Beyond timing the price change, there are several other things you can do as well! Try using tools like the GasBuddy app, which helps track the latest prices at your local gas stations.

On top of tracking the price of fuel, many gas stations offer loyalty programs or special offers for specific payment options that give you points or rewards for every purchase. Plus, you can find discounts, like how CAA members save 3 cents/litre on all fuel grades at participating Shell locations across Canada. If you’re a daily commuter or do a lot of road trips on weekends, these savings can quickly add up to cover the cost of a CAA membership (which also includes great benefits like roadside assistance, travel deals, and countless other special offers.)

By understanding the reasons behind the seasonal fuel changes and taking advantage of available savings opportunities, you can better manage the cost fluctuations at the pump throughout the year.

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