Having a car is wonderful but it’s also incredibly expensive. In fact, it’s the second largest household expense in most homes, with the average person spending $8,700 per year to keep their car running.
Fortunately, if you’re smart about how you use your car you can save thousands of dollars on gas and maintenance over the course of its lifetime.
Use these strategies to save money on your car:
Fuel efficiency in most cars goes down dramatically after 50MPH. For every extra 5MPH you’re spending an extra 20 cents on gas, particularly if you’ve purchased a large vehicle. This means that if you normally cruise at 60MPH you can save $198 per year on gas.
Depending on what kind of car you have it will go through somewhere between a quarter and a half gallon of gas for every hour spent idling—and the few minutes you spend idling here and there adds up quickly. Most people can save about $140 per year just by stopping the car and starting it again when they would normally idle.
Rapid acceleration, speeding and hard braking are the quickest way to burn through fuel. Aggressive driving can actually reduce your mileage by 33% at highway speeds and 5% when you’re in town. Depending on how aggressively you drive you can save up to $477 per year with this simple change.
Your car company suggests that you use a specific grade of motor oil for a reason. Using anything else will reduce your mileage by 1-2%. It doesn’t sound like a lot but this change can still save you roughly $30 per year.
Tires should always have the precise amount of air pressure recommended in your owner’s manual (you can also find this information on a sticker in the driver’s side doorjamb or the glovebox). This can improve your mileage by 3.3% and will save the average person about $112 per year. People who are driving around with severely underinflated tires can save even more, as much as $800 per year.
Unfortunately, air conditioning can reduce your fuel efficiency by more than 25%. Try setting it a few degrees higher or even living without it altogether. If you would normally run air conditioning for four months of the year this can save you up to $120 every year.
You can use an app like GasBuddy to compare gas prices in your immediate area or along your commute. Just remember that driving out of your way to get the cheaper gas price cancels out any savings. How much this will save you depends entirely on where you live but it could be as much as $270 per year.
Many credit cards now offer cash back rewards when you purchase gas. The American Express Blue Cash Preferred is probably the best one currently available, offering 3% cash back on gas AND 6% cash back on groceries. It does have a $75 annual fee but in the first year this is offset by a $150 sign up bonus. You can make up to around $500 of your money back depending on how much you spend with this card.
Shopping for insurance can be tedious but going with the first company you find is rarely a good idea. Taking the time to compare rates from several different companies could save you hundreds of dollars every year. When it comes time to renew, you may be able to save even more money by switching to a different company. On average people who switch insurance companies save $388 per year.
If you own a home you can save $100-240 on insurance by bundling your home insurance and car insurance policies together. How much you’ll get depends on where you live and what company you’re insured with. Many companies also offer discounts for insuring multiple vehicles.
Some companies offer a special program where they install a monitor in your car to watch your driving habits and reward you for driving safely with savings of up to $330 per year.
Do you work from home some or all of the time? Bike to work in the nice months? You might be able to get a discount on your insurance if you’re driving less than average. One study from Insurance Quotes.com found that people who drive less than 5,000 miles per year paid an average of 8.4% less than people who drove 15,000 miles a year. For most people that’s a savings rate of $92 per year.
Your credit score may actually factor into how much you pay for insurance depending on where you live and what company you’re with. On average people with an excellent credit score pay $214 less than people with a good credit score and as much as 50% less than people with no credit score.
Putting a teenager on your car insurance often means paying 80% more—96% if that teenager is just 16. At 19 they’ll only cost you an extra 60%, but that’s still a lot of money. Unless your teen is willing to pay a significant portion of the insurance themselves, just say no.
An accident deemed your fault can make your insurance costs spike by as much as 41%, so if you’re in a minor collision and nobody else is involved you’re better off paying for the repairs yourself. You can save $451 per year this way, making up for the out of pocket costs pretty fast.
Become intimately familiar with your owner’s manual, especially the part about maintenance. Mechanics will often try to sell you extra services when you go in for maintenance. One of the most common is a transmission flush, which they’ll say you should do every time even though most cars can go 100,000 miles before they actually need a transmission change. You can save as much as $120 simply by refusing this extra service.
This is one of the easiest fixes you can make to your car and if you do it yourself you can save $20-60 every two years. The air filter should be replaced every 30,000 miles to keep dirt out of the engine and improve fuel efficiency.
If you enjoy fixing other things and you feel confident in your abilities try replacing things like windshield wipers, fuses and lights by yourself. You can find lots of instructional videos on Youtube. Replacing your own windshield wipers will save you $70 in labor costs; replacing your fuses and lights will save you $17-132 depending on what type of vehicle you have.
Many mechanics will tell you to change your oil every 3,000 miles, but this is only necessary for old cars. Newer models can comfortably go for 10,000 miles without needing an oil change. Every unnecessary oil change you don’t get saves you $40 ($15 if you do it yourself).
Preserve the lifetime of your car’s internal gas pump by topping up your tank every time it hits the quarter mark. Replacing your fuel pump will cost at least $464, making this one repair you want to put off as long as possible.
With this advice you can save over a thousand dollars every year, even more depending on where you live and what type of car you have.
Ever since I hooked an ignition coil up to a car battery and zapped myself I've been interested in 'how-to' do all sorts of things--I put some of them here.