Drastic Measures on the Road: Metric vs. English

In my teens, I was so enamoured by hiking and biking that I missed the seemingly obligatory fascination with cars. Once I was a bit older and wiser – and still without a driver’s license – I took the environmentally friendly stance of supporting public transportation for many years. Finally, I succumbed to practicalities and became licensed, insured, and burdened with car payments.

Then came the hard part. I’m not talking about learning how to drive a stick shift, although that was no picnic, believe me. And the question of whether to fill my tank with gasoline, diesel, or salad oil was thankfully resolved by my country’s dogged pursuit to own and burn every last drop of foreign oil. No, even suffering steering wheels on the right side pales in comparison to the dreaded road conversions.

Get out your calculators, class, and let’s go crazy. If a car that gets 23 miles per gallon leaves Seattle, Washington at noon and drives north for 200 miles, how many kilometres will it travel with a full 70-litre tank? Why kilometres? Because the car will now be in Canada, home of the metric, land of the centigrade. Gas prices look more like bottled water prices until you realize that you’re buying tiny litres and not big honking American gallons. For extra credit, class, use this morning’s currency exchange rate and tell me if Canadian gas is cheaper than US gas, drop for drop.

I passed a US gas station near the border once that had a sign that said something like “Last gas station for 500 miles.” Mine weren’t the only skid marks on that road! The sign turned out to say “500 km’s,” which in real (US) measurement is closer to 300 miles. Very funny. I filled up anyway. It turns out I passed another 6 gas stations in the next 500 km, redefining the expression “driving me mad.”

Why does Canada measure distance in kilometres, yet gives you free air miles when you buy gas? Why does England still use miles when the rest of the British Empire has gone metric? Why isn’t there a “nautical kilometre?” Just wondering.

Jot these numbers down, and carry a calculator whenever you travel: One Gallon equals 3.79 litres. One litre equals 0.26 gallons. One mile equals 1.61 kilometres. One kilometre equals 0.62 miles. Your kilometrage may vary.

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