10 Tips to Reduce Car Costs

We came across an article on Bankrate.com that provides 10 tips for ways to reduce your car costs. Some of them are more obvious than others, and some you may have seen elsewhere on TipHero.com, but we think they’re worth reviewing — and we add our own color to the list. Here’s a quick overview of the 10 tips, but we suggest clicking through to read what Bankrate has to say about each, as there’s a lot there:

1. Drive your car longer. This one seems pretty obvious, but we thought you might want to check out a cool little tool that will help drive the point home. Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own calculator let’s you see what you’d really end up paying with the purchase of a car over a five year ownership period.

The results show cost per year and totals broken down into the following categories: Depreciation, Taxes & Fees, Fuel, Maintenance, Repairs, Financing, and Insurance. For some of these, you’re going to pay for them regardless of which car you buy, but they do vary from vehicle to vehicle (e.g., fuel will be different based on the car’s miles per gallon) so it’s helpful to see the breakdown. Plus, it’s really interesting to see just how much we pay for things like fuel and insurance each year — and how tips on things like how to conserve fuel can make a big impact on your overall budget (see tip #8 below).

We think it’s worth playing around with the tool just to get a sense of how much we end up paying for cars — particularly if you use financing instead of paying with cash. For instance, a search for a new 2009 Nissan Xterra priced at just under $25,000 — paid for with cash — costs $42,000 over five years when you factor in depreciation ($14,950) and financing ($4,389), All in all, it makes a pretty good case for why you should hang on to your car for as long as possible, assuming that it’s not a big money pit.

2. Reassess your insurance needs. We increased our deductible recently from $500 to $1000 and will save a little over $200 per year on auto insurance. Sure, we could end up paying more if we have an accident in the $500-$1000 range, but we have enough money in our rainy day fund to cover this potential cost, and we also think that over a long period of time, we will end up paying less — even if we have a few payments between $500 and $1000 that we have to make over the years.

3. Skip the accessories at the dealer and buy after-market products. We’ve used GPS navigation systems that come with cars when you buy them, as well as those that you buy separately, like a Garmin. Our experience has been that a Garmin works just as well — if not better — than those that come with the cars when you purchase them at the dealership. So not only is a Garmin a cheaper option, but we think it’s better too.

4. Buy pre-owned cars. Given what we showed above for the new Nissan Xterra example when we ran the true cost tool, where you lose $14,950 in depreciation over five years on a car that costs just under $25,000, buying pre-owned makes a lot of sense. In fact, in the example of the Xterra, 60% of the total depreciation amount over the five year period comes in the first year. Ouch.

5. Buy what you can afford. “Experts typically recommend not spending more than 20 percent of after-tax household income on all vehicles in the household.” We heard Dave Ramsey say on a recent TV program that a good rule of thumb is to not pay more than 50% of one year’s salary for a car. So, for example, going back to the Nissan Xterra example, if the car costs $25,000, you should be making at least $50,000 per year. Whatever rule you want to follow, the important thing is to remember to live within your means and, if you get the urge to splurge, play around with the true cost tool and make sure you really want to put that much of your hard-earned cash into a car.

6. Do some of your own maintenance. “While the average cost of an oil change at a shop can run anywhere from $30 to $100, you can buy the oil and filter at an auto parts store for $10 to $25. Learning how to change your own oil and keep fluid levels up can save you hundreds of dollars each year.” Here are a few “how to” videos: How to Change Oil in your Car and How to change your oil.

7. Do your homework before you visit a dealer. The web is great for finding all kinds of information and nifty tools for assessing the price you should pay for a car. A new one we discovered is Truecar.com.

8. Reduce fuel consumption. “According to ‘hypermiling,’ using driving techniques that maximize fuel economy, expert Wayne Gerdes of Cleanmpg.com, drivers can increase their fuel efficiency 15 percent to 20 percent simply by checking their tire pressure and mildly altering their driving habits. Other tips include reducing your speed, avoiding stop-and-go traffic and consolidating trips and errands.” Here are a few tips on saving money on gas right here at TipHero.com: How to Save Money on Gas: 30+ Gas Tips, Properly Inflate Your Tires, Search Online for Best Deals on Gas, and all of our gas money-saving tips.

9. Shop around for insurance rates. “…shopping around for new rates once every year or two can save money in premiums…The changing nature of the insurers and their appetite for risk also means that certain companies may offer different rates at different times.”

10. Don’t let gimmicks cloud your judgment. “Dealerships have long used gimmicks such as free cruises and “gas for a year” giveaways to lure people onto their lots or into a new car. Before you jump at that opportunity, calculate exactly how much that really means to you, based on the number of miles you drive and the cost of gas in your area. And then explore what other rebates, incentives or low prices you may have to pass up in order to get that $500 or $600 worth of gas.”

A tightwad’s 10 tips to trim car costs (Bankrate.com)

Photo credit: The Consumerist