The family car is expensive, but that doesn't mean you can't exercise some control. A few dollars consistently saved add up big at the end of the year.
Walk, carpool and use these tips to cut costs on daily travel now and you may just bank enough for a road trip next summer!
1 Lay off the oil
Unless you're driving in extreme conditions, you're fine to go a little longer between oil changes than your father might have you believe. What's extreme? Consumer Reports defines it as stop-and-go driving, frequent towing, mountainous terrain or dusty conditions. According to the experts, modern engines require oil changes only every 7,500 miles or so.
2 Puff up the tires
Driving on an underinflated tire can increase the chances of blowout, which could cause an accident. Luckily there is an easy fix: Invest in a tire gauge. Find the sticker inside the driver's side door and make sure your tires are inflated to the PSI (per square inch) indicated. Pay extra attention once the weather turns cold. Check the pressure monthly (the spare, too) and add air at almost any gas station.
3 Save for a rainy day
It's never sunny when your car breaks down. Having money set aside for emergencies means you won't have to put expensive repairs on credit cards with high interest. Take this strategy a step further by setting aside the funds to cover regular maintenance, too. Oil changes may not break the bank, but brake jobs, tires and windshields can be costly. Saving for these big-ticket items in small increments eases the pain of a large payment when the time inevitably comes.
4 Keep current
Review your insurance needs annually to ensure you still have the correct amount of coverage. If you didn't file a claim or get a ticket, ask for a rate adjustment for good behavior! And whatever you do, stay covered. Lapses in insurance coverage will cost you. Even a one-day gap could be expensive. Even if the fates are with you and you don't have an accident, insurance companies can use discrepancies in coverage to justify charging a higher rate when you reinstate.
5 Buy cheap gas
Premium gas is a racket. Unless your manual specifically recommends high-dollar gasoline, skip it. High-octane gas only benefits high performance cars-the kind that don't accommodate car seats and soccer gear.
6 Repair wisely
Invest the time to find a trustworthy mechanic. Recommendations from friends and family are usually your best bet, and social media makes gathering this kind of information quick and easy. If you're new in town or your networks are coming up empty, sites like repairpal.com can help you find certified mechanics vetted by real customers. Some of these sites also estimate the cost of common repairs so you know what to expect before you get to the garage.
7 Use rewards
Take advantage of grocery and club stores that offer rewards for using their gas stations. A few cents off a gallon of gasoline may not sound like much, but these savings add up over the course of a year.
8 Buy used and don't buy often
You may have to forego the new car smell, but a later-model used car can still feel new if you shop around. You will save significantly by being the second owner of a car. Dealers often offer certifications and limited warranties to ease any worries about performance. Just do your homework and be prepared to negotiate. To get the best insurance rates for a used car, look for factory-installed airbags and alarms. Pick a car and stick with it until the repair bills outweigh the cost of buying something new (to you). If you need something novel and shiny, try shoes.
Lela Davidson recently paid off her 2007 Toyota RAV4, which she plans to keep as long as she can because it’s a sweet ride without a payment. She is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA, a collection of irreverent essays about motherhood and the modern family.