Keeping Automobile Expenses Down

Americans are a culture of car lovers. We pamper our cars, treating them like miniature extensions of our homes with elaborate sound systems, plush carpeting, and fancy detailing jobs.

Unfortunately, many of us also waste a lot of money on the operation and maintenance of our cars, and pay more to own a vehicle than we should have to.

Saving Gas

Other than the actual cost of the car, one of the biggest car-related expenses is gasoline. A great way to reduce your fuel bill is to maximize the gas mileage your engine gets. For starters, keep the car tuned up properly, according to your owner’s manual. Also, keep the tires properly inflated to the maximum pressure listed on the sidewall, and replace them as needed. You will easily save money enough on gas, not to mention overall wear and tear, to cover the costs.

Also, your driving habits could be costing you money. Accelerating too quickly, for example, wastes a lot of gas. And, believe it or not, so does stopping too quickly. If you start coasting as early as possible when you see a red light ahead, instead of continuing to press on the accelerator until the last second, you use a lot less gas. Also, if the light changes early enough, you may not have to come to a complete stop, which means getting back up to speed consumes less fuel as well. Besides, coasting to a stop is a lot easier on your brakes.

You can also get some apps for your smartphone that help you find the cheapest gas in your area and alert you to price drops.

Maintenance

Take good care of your car and it will cost you less to operate. Know when your car needs regular maintenance and don’t pass up a recommended appointment just because everything seems to be running well. It’s cheaper to have the oil changed and tires rotated regularly than to fix a major issue that comes up because proper preventative maintenance wasn’t done.

Read your car’s user manual to get an idea of what the proper maintenance schedule is; don’t necessarily listen to a mechanic or dealership on this question, since they’re likely to recommend more frequent services than you really need.

When you do bring the car in for regular service, be firm when a salesperson tells you you need a laundry list of services. Stick with what is recommended in your owner’s manual.

Car Repairs: Avoiding Scams

Here’s another eye-opening fact about how much money we spend on our cars: of the $90 billion Americans spend annually on car repairs, it is estimated that up to 50 percent is due to incompetence or fraud by mechanics.

The best way to protect yourself from crooked mechanics is to find an honest one and never, ever take your car to anyone else. There are plenty of reputable mechanics in business, and if you ask enough people to recommend one, eventually you’ll get a very enthusiastic endorsement from someone, which is usually a good indication of how they’ve been treated.

If you don’t have that option, stay one step ahead of the situation by knowing as many tricks of the trade as you can. One of the most common tricks is the unnecessary repair. The mechanic will tell you that a hose or shock absorber is about to break down any second and should probably be replaced, when in reality, the part is in fairly good shape.

It’s important to remember that dishonest mechanics don’t cheat all the time, only when they think they can get away with it. If you act confident when describing the problem, you may be able to convince them to treat you fairly. Also, insist upon a written estimate before starting any work and tell them you’d like to keep all the parts they replace.

Another common rip-off is to diagnose a small problem as a much bigger one. There are a lot of moving parts in an automobile, all of which work in sync with other parts. If the timing gets knocked out of whack, it can make your car seem like it’s on its last legs, when it really only needs a minor adjustment. However, that doesn’t always stop the mechanic from recommending a major repair.

Trust your instincts on this one. And don’t be shy about taking the car to another garage for a second opinion. It’s unlikely that two mechanics will try the same scam.

Insurance

If your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance is with the same company as your auto insurance, make sure these policies are linked so you get the maximum discount. If you use multiple insurance companies, think about combining your policies under one company–you’ll usually get a discount for doing so.

Keep your credit score strong, because some part of your insurance rate will be based on your creditworthiness. The stronger your score, the lower your insurance rate will be.

Drive Less

Every mile you drive is costing you. Whether it’s gas, wear and tear on your car, degrading your tires… the less you drive, the less it will cost you. Look for opportunities to share a ride, carpool, etc. Taking a bike when possible will make you healthier as well, and that has benefits that go far beyond lower health care costs.

Car Buying

We have a workshop dedicated to car buying, and you can download the free “Deals for Wheels” workbook from our FIT Academy. Don’t spend any more than you have to when buying a car!

If you have a lot of debt, our counselors can provide a free, confidential counseling session to help you create a budget that works. Whether it’s auto, credit card, student loans or a mortgage, we’re here to help!

Melinda Opperman

About The Author

Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovate ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined credit.org in 2003 and has over 19 years experience in the industry.