Reducing Your Automotive Expenses

I don’t know about you, but having a car has become more and more of a necessity for us. After considering our options, it would be impractical for us to become a one car family, or to rely on public transportation. We are, however, intent on reducing our expenses, so we’re trying to cut our transportation costs.

Aside from carpooling, there are a number to reduce our automotive expenses. Today I’m going to highlight some suggestions that will hopefully save you some money.

Saving money on gasoline

Saving money on gas is a big concern for us. My husband is in the habit of saving gas receipts and dumping the information into a spreadsheet. He’s therefore able to track and see his gas mileage and spot trouble. For example, we noticed that I needed a tuneup when my car’s mileage dipped lower than normal.

Your behavior behind the wheel can also help improve your mileage and thus save money. “Hypermiling” was a popular term when gas was $4/gallon and everyone was trying to cut down on fill ups. The term basically refers to driving in a more fuel efficient way, though some practitioners take it to the extreme. For most drivers it boiled down to a few simple changes when they’re on the road.

  • Track your mileage. Take a page from my husband’s book and record your miles driven and gallons burned after every fill up in a mileage spreadsheet.
  • Drive the speed limit. Life in the fast lane isn’t always better, as your mileage drops dramatically at high speeds.
  • Reduce fast acceleration and braking. By maintaining a relatively steady speed, you can waste less gas. Anticipate the traffic and lights ahead and coast if possible. If you’re driving a distance on a relatively flat highway, consider using cruise control to help you maintain a fuel efficient pace.
  • Turn off your car to reduce idling. I was surprised to learn that if you’re going to be idle for more than 10 seconds, it pays to turn off the car and restart it later. While I’m not comfortable doing this at a red light, it might be useful for those waiting to pick up their kids from school.

Saving on car insurance

Another big expense with owning a car is having enough insurance to cover it. Over the years, we have found ways to save money on car insurance.

Shop around for the best deal. It’s amazing to me how effective shopping around can be. There can be a huge difference between insurance companies for the same coverage on the same car. When I shopped around for car insurance, I discovered that by switching companies I could save $40/month — a huge savings for a college student.

See if your memberships can get your a good deal. We really saved money with this tip. After doing our regular, semi-annual price shop, we checked our Costco membership and found a policy for about half of what we were paying. We’ve also taken advantage of the free towing and roadside assistance that they offer.

Maintaining your car

My husband and I are thrilled that we don’t have any car payments. We’d like to make this situation last as long as possible, so we’re doing our best to keep our cars in good condition. The good news is that it’s possible to do some minor checkups and car maintenance yourself. Not only will you save some money, you’ll also learn quite a bit about your vehicle.

  • Air filters: A clogged air filter can decrease your fuel efficiency, so check it out whenever you get a tune up.
  • Clean the car inside and out: Not only does this improve the appearance of the vehicle, but you can use it as a chance to see if there is any rust or other maintenance problems developing. Having a clean car may also help reduce your urge for a new car that you can’t afford.
  • Fluids: Checking and filling your fluids yourself is a great way to keep your car running smooth while saving money.
  • Tire pressure: This is a common tip for saving gasoline, but it’s not a big win according to Edmunds’ tests. Regardless, underinflation can wear out tires quicker and become a serious safety issue.

If you’re not a handy person, then by all means spend some money on a trustworthy mechanic. Either way, having regular check ups on your car can improve the life of your vehicle and save you money at the pump.

Replacing your car

Eventually, even a well maintained car will break down and you’ll have to find a replacement. Having a car replacement fund allows you to get a car without having expensive financing.

Open a high interest savings account specifically for your car replacement fund. We’ve used ING Direct for our savings for the last couple of years. If you already have an account with them, setting up a sub-account takes less than 5 minutes. Having a separate account reduces the chances of you dipping into it before your next car purchase.

It’s also a good idea to automate a deposit into your car savings account every time you get paid. Have the transfer go from your checking account into your savings account immediately after getting paid. If you don’t, you might spend the money instead of saving it. If you can, aim for saving a car payment ($250-$350) into your fund each month.

Any other suggestions?

I’ve shared some of my favorite tips, and I hope that they help you reduce your car expenses. If you have any tips, please share them as I’m hoping to stretch our transportation dollars even further.

15 Responses to “Reducing Your Automotive Expenses”

  1. Anonymous

    My next car will be electric.

    I would like to buy a Nissan Leaf or a Ford Focus BEV. Driving around for 4 cents per mile is my idea of saving money. Plus, I am tired of changing the oil, getting smog checks and having the service lights come on every 20,000 miles.

    I want a car that is simple, quiet and reliable. And, if it doesn’t pollute, that’s a bonus too.

  2. Anonymous

    For the red-light crowd: it’s oversimplifying to say that “if you’re going to be idle for more than 10 seconds, it pays to turn off the car and restart it later.”

    The article you cite actually says:

    “For modern, fuel-injected vehicles, the break-even point for turning off the engine and then restarting it right before traffic begins to flow may be as little as 10 seconds…”

    That’s a few maybes.

    I wonder what the breakeven point is for those of us who try to save money by keeping old cars in shape and not buying new stuff. (True, there are hidden costs to not upgrading to the latest tech all the time. Still.) The rule of thumb I remember from a couple of decades ago was more like a minute. Gas was cheaper then 🙂

  3. Anonymous

    #9 Stephanie) Your husband has got the right idea. The problem with cheaper gas is that it usually has Ethanol mixed in with it (10%). Ethanol in gasoline absorbs water. With gasoline polluted with water, there is no mixing as the water settles to the bottom of the tank. But with the ethanol blends, you may potentially be pumping water into your gas tank, which your car burns inefficiently, killing MPG.

    Since where I live, all gasoline has 10% ethanol now (thanks Corn-industry/lobby), so I try to fill up my gas tanks before a rain shower. Some water inevitably will contaminate the stations underground tanks. Fill up before it rains, so everyone else can have the water tainted gasohol.

  4. Anonymous

    The best way to reduce your car expense is 1) buy a good solid low-mileage used car e.g. older Camry, Accord, Altima, Volvo 240/940, etc (they’re out there) 2) avoid the hybrid/diesel hype as the premium you pay for these cars is usually far more than you can make up in fuel costs (unless you really, honestly drive more than 25,000 miles a year, and very few people do that) 3) pay cash for whatever you decide is right for you, 4) live as close to work as you can stand. I’m ~4 miles each way. When winter ends I’m gonna try biking it.

    Fuel price is a big bogeyman. Unless you have an absurd commute, it’s not that big a deal, and if you do have an absurd commute, you’re doing it wrong.

  5. Anonymous

    Edmunds tire test is not too real world for me. My tires can get easily more than 10psi under-inflated without much noticeable difference (visually), but surely has a bigger effect on MPG. Since Edmunds only tried down to 8psi below, then that’s not real enough for me. Besides, who accidentally overinflates their tires?

    As for the cruise control, I drive with it off. In hilly areas, you will have cruise control going into WOT while trying to maintain speed going up a hill. Best bet is to slow down going up a hill, and go faster on the downside (don’t use the brakes going downhill) — don’t try to work against gravity.

    Driving slower is a big saver, as well as letting off the gas pedal at least 15-30 seconds before needing to use the brake (anticipate stop-lights and stop signs).

  6. Anonymous

    One of the biggest ways that I reduce my car expense is by carpooling once gas prices rise above $3.00 a gallon. I’m fortunate to live about 2 miles away from another coworker, so once gas goes above that magic amount, we start carpooling.

    By carpooling, not only do we save on gas, but also reduce the wear and tear on the entire car, prelong the life of our tires, etc…

    Then there are the entire world economic benefits. By carpooling, we reduce the demand for oil, and lessen the carbon emissions.

  7. Anonymous

    My husband uses some tips we learned both from the tv news and his work newsletter.
    Fill up your tank during the coolest part of the day and the gas is not expanded from the heat,giving you more actual gasaline and therefore more miles AND fill your tank slowly to prevent fumes, which also take up room in the tank and you end up with more gas and more milage. He does both of these and swears they make a differance. He is on the road before dawn so he can fill up when it is the coolest part of the day in summer and then it takes him up to twenty minutes to fill his tank on the slow setting, but from what we heard and read, and what he has noticed, both ideas help a lot.
    Also, be careful where you buy gas with an older car. Last year when we took our truck in for its yearly inspection, it is a 1989 Ford Ranger, it passed with flying colors as it has every year, and then he started to go to a cheaper gas station and it barely passed. We would not have known the connection but the guy running the test asked if we had been filling up at a specific station and my husband said yes, and he told us the ethenol in those cheap gases is too high for cars older than 2006, and to use better gas because high ethenol in a car older than 2006 could damage the O2 sensor and affects how the car runs. It was a noticable differance as for years he had gone to a name brand gas station and only the past year had switched to the cheap gas. An aside to this is, he actually has found he gets more milage per tank if he fills at the better station, but due to their often higher prices and longer lines, he started to go to a cheaper and easier place. He has since swtiched back.
    My husband also said that you are supposed to fill it at half full, also to help with vapors when you fill, slowly, lol.
    I called and checked all this with him to make sure I got it right.
    So, the tips are, better gas, fill early when its cool during hot weather , fill at half full and fill on the auto slow setting.
    Hope this helps !!

  8. Anonymous

    The best efficiency is at cruising speed in the top gear that a car has. The most efficient way to get to that speed is typically about 60% throttle with most engines. You don’t want to floor it to get to 60 mph as quickly as possible, but slowly accelerating leaves you in an inefficient lower gear for longer.

    Another major cost of ownership is tires. The Chevy Metro gets almost as good mpg as a hybrid Prius or Insight, but it does it by running 13″ tires, weighing 1900 lbs, and having an 85 hp engine. By the time you figure the cost to keep $40 tires on a car versus $75 larger ones that last no longer, the Metro is cheaper to buy gas and tires for, let alone the purchase price.

  9. Anonymous

    Cruise control helps for the longer distance drives.

    Also, don’t drive an SUV everywhere. SUV’s are VERY popular in the southeast, probably moreso than everywhere else in the US. SUV’s are nice when you’re traveling with a bunch of luggage, need to go grocery shop, need to pick up kids, or are carpooling. They’re not for one-person commutes!

  10. Anonymous

    I change my own oil which really helps cut down on costs. It takes less time and costs less money when you do it yourself.

    I do try to turn my car off at stop lights where I know the timing of the light well. It really does help increase your MPG’s

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