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10 ways to slash driving costs

Tips to put more dollars in your wallet, not in your car

Published: July 16, 2014 10:00 AM

Let’s face it, driving can be expensive. the cost of gas, maintenance, insurance, and repairs can take a toll on anyone’s budget. But before you hang up the keys and jump on a bus, take a look at some tips Consumer Reports has come up with to make driving more affordable.

1. Do basic checks and repairs yourself

You don’t have to be a certified mechanic to inspect your car and do a few simple repairs. By keeping up with the basics, you can keep your car running smoothly and be able to spot problems before they become a costly repair:

Oil: Check your own oil monthly. The car should be parked on level ground so you can get an accurate dipstick reading. Don’t overfill. and if you do have a leak, find and fix it soon.

Tire pressure:
Once a month—and before any extended trips—check the inflation pressure in each tire, including the spare. Do this when the tires are cold (before the vehicle has been driven or after no more than a couple of miles of driving). Use the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer, not the maximum pressure embossed on the tire’s sidewall. By keeping up with the pressure levels, you can save money on fuel costs. Also, make sure to inspect tires and watch for wear to avoid unexpected flat tires or dangerous blowouts. (See our tire-pressure-gauge ratings.)

Tire rotation: as part of your tire inspec­tion, rotate your tires regularly (about every 8,000 miles) in order to lessen tire wear. It is a relatively easy thing to do if you have a sturdy jack and the proper tools. Consid­ering it costs at least $20 per tire to have a shop do it, you can easily save $400 or more on a set of tires that lasts 40,000 miles.

2. Don't buy premium gas

If your car specifies regular fuel, using premium won’t make your engine run better or improve mileage. All you will be doing is paying at least 20 cents more per gallon. Most cars are designed to run just fine on regular gasoline. Even many cars that suggest using premium will run well on regular, with imperceptible differences during normal driving. Check your owner’s manual to find out if your engine really requires premium or if it can run on other grades. (Visit our guide to fuel economy for more tips.)

3. Drive at moderate speed

You may have to be a little patient, but driving at 55 mph instead of 65 or 75 will save you money, as our tests have proven. When we drove our Honda Accord at a steady 65 mph, the car’s fuel economy dropped from 49 mpg to 42 mpg compared to 55 mph. Speeding up to 75 mph cost the car another 5 mpg. One reason is that aerodynamic drag increases exponentially the faster you drive; it simply takes more fuel to power the car through the air. Using an SUV in the same test, our Toyota RAV4 dropped from 37 mpg to 33 mpg, then to 27 mpg at 75 mph.

4. Find the cheapest gas near you

While driving 50 miles out of your way to save a few cents doesn’t make sense, with a little research you can find the cheapest fill up spot around your home or work:

Your local chapter of the Automobile Club of America my have a gas­ price finder on its website. If not, the California AAA site serves other states, and shows prices within 3­, 5­, and 10­ mile radius of an intersection.

Gasbuddy.com links to gas­ price sites in the U.S. and Canada by state or province, county, or parish. It only tracks regular gas and diesel fuel.

Automotive.com highlights the lower prices for each grade within your area.

GasPriceWatch.com spotlights the best local price and lets you sort your results by the most recently posted prices.

5. Use cash back or reward cards to buy gas

When filling up, use a cash­back credit card or other rewards program. For example, Discover will offer 5 percent cash back on gas a few times a year. Shell offers a savings of two cents a gallon when you use their saver card, and some supermarket chains offer $.10 off each gallon for every $100 spent.

6. Choose a vehicle with a good value

If you’re in the market for a new car, look at the full value, which is how much that car will cost in over time. In our research, we factor in depreciation, fuel, insurance premiums, interest on financing, sales tax, and maintenance and repairs, as well as our road test and reliability scores to determine which vehicles are the best bang for the buck. In several categories, hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, and Lexus ES 300h offer the best value, because of their great gas mileage and low depreciation.

7. Check your insurance

Do an annual rate check to make sure you’re getting the best deal at the best price on car insurance. Also, take advantage of discounts available from driver training courses, professional or college associations, or antitheft and safety equipment installed on your vehicle.

You can also save money by canceling your collision and/or comprehensive cover­age when the annual cost equals or exceeds 10 percent of your car’s book value.

If you have a good driving record and haven’t had an at ­fault accident in years, or ever, opting for a higher deductible on collision might be a good bet. Hiking your deductible from $200 to $500 can cut your premium on collision by 15 to 30 percent. Go to $1,000 and you could save 40 percent. But put those savings aside so you can pay it if your luck runs out.

8. Get an electronic toll pass

These go by various names, such as EZ Pass in the Northeast, SunPass in the South, and FasTrak in California. Not only do these systems offer a toll discount or commuter plan savings, they help you save fuel by avoiding idling in the cash lines.

9. Consider a ride share

If you have co­workers who live nearby, consider a ride share to and from work. It can not only save money on gas, tolls and wear and tear on your car, but provide a companion for the ride.

10. Give up one of your cars

If you don’t drive often, or even use public transporta­tion most of the time, then consider reducing the number of cars you own. If you can drop down to one car, you can save on insurance and maintenance. There are many rental options, such as Zipcar, for the few occasions where you may need a car.

   

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