Believe it or not but owning and operating a vehicle is probably the second-largest household expense for most people. In the United States, in particular, the American Automobile Association estimates that the average mid-size sedan costs roughly $8,700 a year to use and maintain, which breaks down to an average of $725 per month for each mile (1.6 km) driven.
The truth is, there are many secondary costs to owning an automobile that most car buyers fail to consider, costs that must be factored in when determining your total annual or monthly expenses. Fortunately, there are many tips and strategies that can help you save money, and they fall into three main areas: fuel costs, repairs/maintenance and insurance. We look at the first two categories in Part 1 of this article.
How to save on fuel
Fuel efficiency is one of the primary factors most people base their purchase on. While not all vehicles are equally frugal, applying the following cost-saving tips will help you save money regardless of what you drive:
- Cruise at 50 mph (80 km/h): It’s a little known fact that gas mileage decreases as you travel faster, so much so that a study by U.S.-based Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows that every 5 mph you drive above 50 mph (8 km/h) is like paying an additional 20 cents per gallon of gas.
- Drive smoothly: Accelerating too quickly, driving fast and hard braking are without a question the quickest ways to waste gas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, driving so aggressively can lower your gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds and by 5% in city driving.
- Stop idling: Considering that idling can use a quarter to a half-gallon of fuel per hour, it’s in your best interest to turn off the engine when you’re parked and waiting. The guys at Arrigo Ft. Pierce say restarting your vehicle only takes about 10 seconds-worth of fuel.
- Roll down windows when it’s hot: Running the air conditioning system can reduce your car’s fuel economy by more than 25%, so try using it only when it’s unbearably hot or just go without it.
- Get the right motor oil: Using something other than the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil increases friction in the engine, potentially lowering your gas mileage by about 1%-2%.
- Keep your tires inflated: Having proper tire pressure can improve your gas mileage by 3.3%. Surprisingly, the proper pressure for your car is not the figure printed on the tire’s sidewall but rather the one on the sticker in the driver’s side doorjamb or in your owner’s manual. It’s a good idea to check your tire pressure once a month, as tires lose an average of about two pounds of pressure per month.
- Buy gasoline smarter: Getting a credit card that offers cash back on gas purchases can save you even more money at the pump. Many of the larger gas companies offer their own credit cards or have saving programs that offer discounts to members.
How to Save on Repairs and Maintenance
Unfortunately, keeping your car in tip-top shape is not something that comes free. However, there are a few things that you can personally do to keep your car running for longer and, thus, save money:
- Stop the hard braking: Remember how aggressive driving hurts your car’s gas mileage? Well, anticipating stops, rather than slamming on the pedal, can have a high maintenance payoff. You can typically double the life of your rotors and brake pads by easing on the brakes, saving you a great deal of money over the life of a car.
- DIY the easy repairs: Not all your car problems need you to go to a mechanic. Somethings, such as replacing wiper blades, blown fuses and lights, can be done yourself for relatively little money. There are many excellent how-to YouTube videos on how to fix simple car problems.
- Don’t over oil: Contrary to popular beliefs, you don’t need to change your oil every 3,000 miles (4828 km). Newer cars using synthetic oils can easily reach the 8,000-10,000 mile (12,875-16,093 km) mark before needing a change. Just make sure to look over your owner’s manual and keep to your car’s specified oil change timetable.
Stay tuned to Part 2 of our ‘how to slash your car expenses’ series, and feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments section below.