Is Your CAA Membership Worth It?

Every year for Christmas my Grandmother used to get me a Canadian Auto Association membership. You Americans reading this have something similar, called AAA. I’ll let you figure out what that stands for.

Here’s how it works. For a minimum cost of about $83 per year in Alberta (certain plans are more), you get all sorts of perks. The big one is free roadside assistance, which covers locking your keys in your car, tire changes, battery boosts, towing to the nearest garage, and running out of gas.

They offer other stuff as well. If you want information about a certain place, CAA will send you maps and guidebooks. Members qualify for special hotel deals and other travel perks. Cheap car insurance is offered. The club even has an app that’ll tell you where the cheapest nearby place is to fill your tank.

After a few years of getting this membership, I realized something. I wasn’t using the darn thing. Using CAA to get travel deals is a thing of the past, since it’s easy to use the internet to find cheap hotels and flights. I get maps on my phone; the last thing I want to do is crack out a big cumbersome piece of paper you need a degree in Physics to fold back up.

I was using the auto insurance, at least. After having my membership for a year, my car insurance stayed stubbornly high even after I completed another incident-free trip around the sun. I called up my local CAA branch, and 15 minutes later I was saving close to $500 per year.

That went well for a few years, until I decided to shop around again. The CAA-branded insurance wasn’t even close to the cheapest. So I dumped it faster than my first non-imaginary high school girlfriend got rid of me.

I was left with a service I wasn’t even using. Paying $83 per year for that was silly, even if it wasn’t my own money.

Should you do the same?

About 10 years ago, when booking hotel rooms online really started to surge in popularity, my Grandmother was booking a room for a family reunion in a medium-sized city. She got some information from CAA, and made a couple of phone calls. A few minutes later, she had a room for $149 per night after getting her CAA discount.

I didn’t have anything pressing to do, so I went on her computer to see what kind of deal I could find. Less than five minutes later I had pulled up the hotel’s page on Expedia which was offering rooms at… $129 per night.

Grandma wasn’t stupid, so she called up the hotel and explained how I found the same room on Expedia for $20 per night less. The hotel reacted exactly how you’d expect–they matched the price found online, once they verified it existed.

I can remember when booking hotels was stressful. You often had nothing to go on besides a black and white accommodation guide and the reviews of friends. CAA was a valuable tool back then.

These days, there are a dozen big hotel booking sites all with hundreds of reviews about every hotel in a city. The information advantage that was formerly enjoyed by hotels is long gone. That’s a good thing for consumers, and a bad thing for hotels. It’s also a bad thing for CAA.

Having the CAA seal of approval used to be a big deal for hotels. These days, nobody cares.

It’s the same thing with roadside assistance. Most people who can afford an extra $83 per year in insurance can also afford newer cars, vehicles that don’t tend to break down on the highway. And even if your car does break down, finding a tow truck on your smartphone isn’t very difficult. Phone GPS makes it easy to tell the tow truck driver where you are, too.

So to review, CAA coverage gives you, essentially, three things. It gives you peace of mind when driving, travel assistance, and cheap insurance. But technology has also given us peace of mind while driving, travel assistance, and ways to easily shop around for cheaper insurance. Why pay $83 per year for something you can easily replicate for free using the technology you already own?

Ease the Pedal to the Metal: Gas saving Tips for your next road trip

Tiny Car #1Are you planning to hit the road for your next vacation? Road trips are great if you don’t mind long drives, bugs on your grille and the occasional snoring of one of your passengers. How you drive affects the overall budget of your trip because aside from your accommodations, fuel is probably the other major thing you have to consider in allocating your vacation fund. Save money on gas and add it to your fun budget by following these tried and tested fuel saving tips.

Drive a Fuel Efficient Car

OK, this is pretty obvious, but if you plan to go on a road trip in your 25 year old Toyota, you may as well scrap the whole trip. Older cars burn through fuel faster than a bank loan-denied Human Torch, so you should consider this first and foremost before planning any road trip. If it’s a trip to the Costco a couple of blocks from your house, fine. But a cross country road trip from Vancouver to Montreal? Better call in ahead to a Toyota dealer because you may have to buy a new Toyota – if you even get as far as Ontario. If you don’t have a fuel efficient vehicle, rent one.

Fill ‘er up on Weekdays

Gas prices soar over the weekend and skyrocket during the holidays. If you’re smarter than the average bear, you may want to do all you’re pumping on the weekday, preferably Mondays through Thursdays, but not past 10AM on Thursdays because this is when the stations are most likely to manipulate the pump prices in anticipation of the weekend.

Stop emulating Vin Diesel

Ease off on the accelerator. Driving between 40-60 mph is ideal because going over 70 mph significantly increases vehicle drag, which in turn increases fuel consumption because the engine has to deal with the extra wind factor. On the other hand, driving below 40 mph compromises optimal engine efficiency and makes the car sip more fuel.

Also, avoid jackrabbit acceleration. The other drivers that you share the same stoplight with aren’t there to race you. Accelerate slowly when the light turns green. One last tip is that when you see the light go red, step off the gas and just coast. Stick to the middle or the slow lane if you do this to avoid getting rear-ended.

Follow That Truck

If you’re on the highway, there are bound to be big container trucks. If you don’t mind going a little slower than usual, get behind them (drafting) and let them act as a wind break for your vehicle. This will significantly decrease your own drag, saving you a little bit of gas in the process. Don’t go on tailgating them though, because the last place you want to be in is under the truck when the driver slams on the brakes all of a sudden.

You also may want to close all your windows when drafting, because trucks and other vehicles spew out deadly carbon monoxide and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of that. Also, driving with your windows open increases your vehicles’ drag, so if you really want some fresh air, wait till you get to the city or the nearest town. Here, you can roll down your windows and turn off the AC for more fuel savings.

Check your Tire Pressure

Probably the most overlooked gas saving tip is poorly inflated tires. Check the doorjamb of your ride for the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) of your tires. Always carry a tire pressure monitor in the glove box. You can also use the ones in the gas stations. If you use aftermarket rims that are a few inches bigger than stock, you may want to call the manufacturer because the PSI of your tires will most likely be different than stock.

See ‘Ya

On your next road trip, it won’t hurt a bit to plan ahead. Map out your route well and know where the nearest gas stations are from the roads you plan to take. Use your phone and download a gas saving app like GasBuddy so you know where the nearest gas station is relative to where you are. Use the money you saved on gas to buy more beer for the trip, but please don’t drink and drive.

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