This is a guest article by Emily Guy Birken, author of The SAHMambulust. In this article, she offers suggestions for cutting the costs associated with car ownership.
Owning a car is an expensive proposition, but most of us never stop to consider the cost of each trip. Unless you live in a city with great public transportation, you use a car for everything. We jump into our cars to commute, run errands, visit friends, go shopping or even just take in the fall foliage. Be proactive about your car to keep your ownership costs low.
Here are five ways to make sure that your car remains a manageable expense, rather than a financial black hole.
Don’t cheap out on a mechanic.
When you find a reputable mechanic whom you trust, don’t expect to see bargain basement bills. Mechanics not only have to stay on top of the ever-changing trends of car engines, but they also need to make sure their (very expensive) tools keep up with cars’ needs and are well maintained. A knowledgeable mechanic is worth the extra money. One who doesn’t know what he is doing but will save you a couple of bucks can often cause expensive harm to your car. This is not the place to try to save. You’ll spend less in the long run if you’re willing to pay a great mechanic.
Looking for the cheapest mechanic will cost you more money in future repairs, so don’t be penny wise, pound foolish. Think about the larger picture.
Make smart gas choices.
There may be a great deal of hype about premium fuel options, but most daily drivers are just fine with the lowest octane gas at the pump. If you’re not sure about your car’s gas needs, check your owner’s manual. Even if the recommendation is for the premium grade of fuel, chances are that you would only need to fork over for the high-grade stuff in warm weather, when hauling extra weight, or driving on extremely steep mountain roads. Any other times, save yourself the money. And if you’re still not sure what your car needs, talk to your mechanic or check the internet message boards devoted to your make and model—there are plenty of them!
Watch the advertised prices as the station. You may pay more for your gas if you use a credit card, because many stations now charge gas customers different prices depending on whether they use cash or a credit card. You may be able to make up some of the difference with a gas rewards credit card, but again, make sure the price you pay above the cash price is worth the benefits.
Provided you pay off your credit card each month, this could be a savvy way to reduce your fuel bill each month and keep you motoring for less, as long as you make smart choices.
Take good care of your tires.
Tires are one of the costliest items that you will have to replace during the life of the car. While they are not made to last forever, you can ensure you get your money’s worth out of each set by practicing good maintenance. Keeping the tires properly inflated will not only make sure they last but will also save you on fuel efficiency. Check your tires monthly for underinflation and wear.
Keep your car clean.
If you live in an area with long, cold winters, you’re probably surrounded by cars that are rusting away. Cars that are exposed to salt will succumb to rust, which can shorten the lifespan of the vehicle. Especially in winter, you want to make sure that your car is regularly cleaned and waxed to keep the metal safe from the eroding properties of salt.
Similarly, if you notice a chip of paint missing from your body, touch it up! That spot is open to the elements and salt and will eventually rust over.
Don’t ignore little problems.
A friend’s car was revving but not catching when he turned the ignition. When he tried again, the car started and he went along his way. The problem? He was short on transmission fluid. Had he not topped off that fluid, he could have destroyed his transmission and been looking at a multi-thousand dollar repair bill, plus an out-of-commission car. Because he took care of the problem quickly, he paid just a few dollars for transmission fluid instead of using his maintenance budget for the year in one shot. We can become so used to the idea that we just jump in the car that we can sometimes end up ignoring small warning signs. If your car is behaving oddly, get it to a trusted mechanic quickly. Always pay attention to small issues.
Maintaining your car is an investment that will keep you motoring for years after your less-savvy neighbors and friends have had to replace their vehicles and spent unnecessary costs.
Updated November 9, 2011 and originally published November 3, 2011.