Between the cost of buying, maintaining, repairing, and fueling, vehicles can be a significant recurring cost in the average person’s budget. Depending on the flexibility and mechanical ability of the owner, there are many simple ways to reduce these costs across the board, which can result in significant long-term savings. Here are just a few very feasible suggestions:
Drive a Durable High Quality Used Car as Your Primary Vehicle
Some people prefer buying new cars, and others lease rather than buy because they switch cars every two to three years. This may make sense for some due to personal preference, but financially there is no debate. Buying a high quality used car and making it last as long as possible is the cheapest way to own and maintain a car. Most of these older economy cars (like Hondas and Toyotas) can easily pass 200,000 miles with no problems assuming only basic maintenance. Brand new cars come with substantial premiums, 10% of which is lost as soon as you drive the car off the lot. Due to increasing regulation and consumer preferences, many of these cars come with bells and whistles which are entirely unnecessary, and may even reduce the life and performance of the car.
If you do wish to have some of these electronic gadgets in your car, you can almost always buy after-market versions which are much cheaper and work just as well, while also leaving you the flexibility to remove them if you so desire. Increasingly, car manufacturers are attempting to make money by selling (or requiring) customers to buy “maintenance packages” where the dealer will take care of standard maintenance up to a certain mileage. While this might give certain people peace of mind, it’s almost certainly cheaper to do the work yourself. Another problem with new cars is that manufacturers are also creating specialized tools and equipment which make it difficult if not impossible for the average person to perform standard maintenance jobs.
The maxim to remember is: the more car you buy, the more you have to keep buying (via maintenance, repairs, gas, etc.).
Perform Your Own Routine Auto Maintenance
Proactively maintaining your car can save you lots of money in the long run by avoiding expensive repairs caused by negligence. The single most important item in prolonging the life of your car is changing the oil regularly. I also recommend using synthetic oil – it is more expensive but worth it, as it provides superior lubrication to standard oil and doesn’t break down as easily. This and many other standard maintenance items can be done by the average person in less than 15 minutes with only basic tools and a YouTube video explaining how. YouTube has been a huge help to do-it-yourselfers, making all kinds of maintenance / repair work doable by the average person.
Consult your owner’s manual or online forums, which should have your car’s standard “maintenance schedule”, giving you the proper intervals at which to perform certain part replacements, fluid flushes, etc. For more complex jobs like replacing the timing belt and water pump, you’ll want to take it to a qualified mechanic (unless you happen to have the know-how and the tools to do it). The difference in cost between performing these jobs yourself and taking it to a mechanic are usually quite dramatic, so even if you only pick the most basic items to do yourself, it will make a difference. Another option is to ask for help from a friend or family member who is mechanically gifted.
Maintain Proper Tire Pressure
This sounds very basic, and indeed it is, but maintaining the proper air pressure in your tires will improve your gas mileage and increase the life of your tires. You can buy a simple air pressure gauge for less than five dollars, and then check the air pressure in your tires every time you fill up for gas. Most gas stations will have an air pump available to use for a few quarters or sometimes for free with a gas purchase. Discount Tire estimates that most drivers lose 10 – 50% of tire tread life due to under-inflation. FuelEconomy.gov estimates that under-inflated tires reduce gas mileage by 0.3% for every 1 psi drop in pressure, and that the average driver can improve gas mileage by 3.3% by maintaining proper tire inflation. Performing this simple task periodically can make a big difference in the long run.
Rotate Your Tires Regularly
Similar to the previous recommendation, you should rotate your tires approximately once every 6,000 miles depending on usage. This will also positively impact your gas mileage, steering performance, and tread life. Discount Tire has a good overview of the method and benefits of tire rotation here. Ensuring that the tires wear evenly is an important part of tire maintenance, and positively affects many other aspects of automobile performance and life.
Decrease Your Auto Usage / Mileage
Ever since the rise of suburbia, many people today have lengthy commutes, and this mileage can add up quickly. Drivers should look for ways to reduce their auto use however they can, which will result in less money spent on gas, maintenance, insurance, etc., as well as reducing pollution and increasing quality of life. There are many ways to do this, but here are a few examples:
• Approach your employer about working from home from time to time
• Find someone to carpool with
• Try to avoid driving during “rush hour” to increase gas mileage and reduce headaches
• Try to live as close to work (and other common destinations such as the grocery store) as possible
• Use public transit
• For local trips, use alternative transportation like biking
• Consolidate shopping trips as much as possible
• Look for social activities which are nearby or within walking distance
The basic lesson of auto maintenance is that the small money (and/or sweat) you expend in the near term on easy basic maintenance prevents expending big money on large repairs in the long-term, as well as increasing the life and performance of your vehicle. Some people may not be comfortable doing any of the work themselves but keep in mind that regardless of who does the actual work, the owner himself must take responsibility for ensuring the vehicle is properly maintained. Some mechanics can be dishonest. Another factor most people don’t realize is that standard maintenance at most shops is typically not done by a qualified mechanic. It wouldn’t be worth the highly trained mechanic’s time to do a basic oil change – they only do the more complex repair or maintenance work.
These are just a few concepts, but once you start exploring this route, you find that there are many easy adjustments the average person can make to reduce auto-related expenses.
Logan Hertz works as a business strategy consultant in Atlanta and freelances as a personal finance expert. If you are interested in clever, easy ways to increase your income and reduce your costs, email him.
© 2015 Logan Hertz – permission to reprint is gladly given, provided the author is given credit