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Smart Money Saving Car Tips You Should Be Aware Of

Michael has had working experience in Quality Control within the automotive industry in Germany.

Only 12-30% of the fuel we put into our vehicle is actually used to physically move the car from one place to another

Only 12-30% of the fuel we put into our vehicle is actually used to physically move the car from one place to another

Let's pick one example of a common expense among car owners: Fuel.

Consider the statistics. Isn't it staggering to think that only 12-30% of the fuel we put into our vehicle is actually used to physically move the car from one place to another? The rest is either lost through inefficiencies or used up by accessories that may not always be necessary.

Due to rising fuel prices and other costs related to the ownership of cars, a lot of people are faced by the challenge of maintaining their asset along with the other pressing needs they have in their daily lives, including the household necessities of the family.

Other car-ownership costs (aside from fuel) come to the owner in the form of insurance, repairs, tune-ups, registration, licensing, taxes and depreciation.

Bottom line is that there is need for cost-effective strategies. The following are some steps you can apply in order to start saving money on your car.

A study done by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) showed that driving a full-size sedan with the windows rolled down created a 20% reduction in fuel efficiency.

1. Saving on Maintenance

Making regular checks on your car (even if it means sparing no more than 20 minutes), could significantly reduce the money you spend on fuel consumption and repairs.

Being able to identify and deal with issues in advance will spare you much time and money in due course. Here are some of the parts you need to examine.

(a) Power-Steering Unit

You will typically find this at the front of your engine. It will have a screwable cap and will be connected to a stick gauge. As this is a closed system, you will need to exercise precaution to ensure that you do not overfill it. If this unit fails, your car will become difficult to maneuver when driving.

(b) Hoses and Belts

Your hoses and belts also need to be checked on a regular basis for any tears or cracks. If you find any, then they need to be replaced.

(c) Leakages

The most common cause of car failure is leaking fluids and this is not only confined to brake fluids. Therefore, you need to adopt the habit of checking underneath the vehicle because any loss can lead to significant consequences.

(d) Lights

When pulling in or pulling out, ask a family member, friend, neighbour or workmate to have a look at your lights and turn signals to confirm everything is working correctly.

(e) Battery

The car battery contains two top covers. Open each of these and confirm that the cells beneath have enough water. Always use distilled water for the batteries and watch out for any signs of corrosion on the connections. The latter would be a sign that they need to be extracted for thorough cleaning with a wire brush.

(f) Brakes

The master cylinder of your brakes is positioned at the front and is the first component in a vehicle’s braking system activated by the pedal. Ensure that the brake fluid is always full.

Note that if the car constantly requires more and more fluid, then the system needs to be examined closely as this may be an indication that you have a leak in your brake system. There can be no margin for error when it comes to this because brake failure can lead to instant death.

(g) Engine

A car engine requires as much airflow as specified by the manufacturer. If the air filter is dirty, this flow will be compromised. If you make replacing the filter a priority, you will see increased fuel efficiency.

Avoid purchasing after-market air filters as these will typically fill the engine with air and reduce its overall efficiency.

Follow the recommendation of the manufacturer when it comes to the correct timing of the engine and how best to maintain that timing. It is best to use high-end NGK spark plugs as these are efficient and will ignite consistently.

(h) Motor Oil

Ensure that you keep an eye on how much oil your car is consuming. You need to keep abreast of this on a constant and consistent basis. If you see a sudden drop in oil then it is time to pay the mechanic a visit.

Ensure you know how many liters your vehicle requires before you start putting oil in. You can pour in new oil using the funnel through the spout on top of your engine underneath the hood of your vehicle.

The dipstick will show you the level of the oil so you can know how much more needs to be added. This is a simple process and once the tank is full, replace the gas caps and shut the hood.

(i) Transmission Fluid

Pull out the transmission dipstick and wipe it. Insert it back and then extract it out again to note the level. Take precaution as the fluid may be hot. The normal state is for the dipstick to be covered by the red colour of the fluid.

Examine the marks at the end of the dipstick. It will typically have two marks, one symbolizing warm and the other cold. If the level is not as high as the 'warm' line, more transmission fluid needs to be added.

You could add in the fluid using a funnel in small increments carefully while rechecking the level at each instance until the 'warm' mark is reached. Ensure that you do not overfill and that the fluid does not spill over onto other engine parts.

Unless you are a commuter who resides in a place with extreme weather conditions (either very hot or very cold) you need to ensure that the fluid and filter gets changed every 30,000 miles. If you reside in an area with harsh weather conditions or patterns, this change needs to be done at least once a year.

(j) Tires

When tires are improperly aligned, the friction coefficient between the tires and the road increases significantly when driving. More fuel and engine power will be needed to keep the tires rotating and support the vehicle when negotiating corners and manoeuvring over tough terrain. It is therefore necessary to ensure that you always have your tires properly aligned.

If your tires are not sufficiently inflated, your gas mileage will be affected. The air pressure level to be maintained for your tires should be the one specified by the car manufacturer and not the tire manufacturer. Ensure that you check the condition of your tires every two weeks for all the previously mentioned states.

Your user manual will indicate the correct inflation pressure or alternatively, the information or details will be on a sticker. When you replace your tires, go for the ones that are rated LRR or Low Rolling Resistance. By sticking to the specified inflation pressure, and using LRR tires, you will be able to save much fuel.

Your tires should always be without any cuts or cracks. They should be replaced as soon as they begin to wear out. Use a gauge to examine each tire and ensure they have sufficient air pressure.

Note: In addition to the above, avoid touching the fan or belt while the engine is still running. You need to also make sure that no foreign objects come into contact with these parts. If this is your first time to conduct a maintenance check, try doing so in the company of a trained or experienced car technician.

2. Saving on Oil Changes

In addition to the above, why not consider saving money by doing oil changes yourself?

Below are the steps you will need to take in order to achieve this.

(1) Assemble the required equipment. The tools you will need to change the oil are a correctly-sized ratchet or wrench, a funnel, a rag, an oil filter, a small bucket and some cardboard.

(2) Start the car and drive around for a short distance in order to warm it up. It is important that the oil be warmed up first because this makes it more viscous and fluid.

(3) Jack up your vehicle making sure that you are following the safety guidelines of your car. Examine the bottom to determine the most stable section that will give you the leverage you need. The axle is usually the best spot. Once you have the proper sturdiness and all is secure, proceed to the next stage.

(4) Drain out the old oil. The drain underneath the vehicle is located around the centre of the engine.

(5) Place your cardboard under the car. This will serve two purposes: it will keep your body shielded from contact with the ground and it will also catch any stray oil drips.

(6) Position your small bucket underneath the oil plug. After this, grab your wrench or ratchet and slowly unscrew the oil plug and let the oil flow down into the bucket.

(7) Wait till the oil has fully drained and all that is visible are small drops dropping slowly. After this, you will need to unscrew the oil filter during which time some additional oil will flow out. Ensure that this extra oil is caught inside the bucket without getting yourself burned.

(8) After this is done, you will need to replace the plug and put in the new oil filter. Use your cleaning rag to wipe off any mess that may have resulted from the above steps. Ensure that the old oil and the filter have been properly disposed of.

Unless you commute often in a busy center, you should not change your oil too often. Cars will typically run normally with upto 7,500 miles without needing a replacement of oil, aside from the biannual changes. For the specific details, refer to your manufacturer's specifications.

Always ensure that you are changing your oil according to the intervals recommended by the manufacturer and that you are using the motor oil with the prescribed viscosity. The oil filter and the air filter may not always need to be replaced, going through the above steps yourself places you in a better position to judge the condition of both and whether they too need to be changed.

Avoid extended warranties as these will typically cost more than the actual value of the privilege itself. It would be better to find a vehicle that is more stable and durable than to go for an extension of warranty.

3. Saving on Transportation

(a) Ride-Sharing

This could be suitable for parents who have children living in the same neighborhood. The responsibility of transporting children to and from school can be shared between neighbors with a mutual understanding.

Carpooling is a joint effort that creates a win/win situation. Not only does it reduce fuel costs, it is also an opportunity for the children to interact with their peers and develop their social skills whilst communicating with adults who are not part of their immediate household.

Employees who work in the same location and reside in close proximity to each other could consider a similar cooperation so that they collectively have common transport and save money. Always try to see how you can get tax refunds when you use the car for work-related reasons.

(b) Killing the Engine

Whenever you are in a situation that does not require your motor to be active and running, do the wise thing and make sure that the engine is turned off. You do need to avoid getting caught in traffic as much as possible by avoiding rush hours and checking if there is congestion on your route prior to driving off.

However, in case you do get caught up in traffic, the same principle applies. Kill the engine and park the vehicle. Bottom line is that as a rule, you should never leave your car with the engine running for whatever reason, whether in a parking zone or driveway - even if it is just for a short period of time.

Commuters often make this mistake at convenience stores or other places when they make brief stopovers to collect something or to meet someone. It is a counterproductive habit that not only exposes the owner to the risk of losing their vehicle through burglary, it also negatively impacts their budget.

(c) Opting for Alternatives

Consider the routes that you cover each week and isolate the ones that do not really require you to get into your car. Prepare yourself in advance to cover certain distances without the use of a car.

If you need to go down a few blocks to run an errand, consider taking your bicycle instead if it is no more than 3-4 miles. Some people have been known to walk upto 20 miles to work. Public transportation and carpooling are other options that could be considered. Alternatively, you could apply for a telecommuting job or negotiate your way into one.

Ask yourself the question: do I use my car because I really need to, or is this because of a habit I have formed? If your local store and other social amenities are close by, it would be best to cover such distances without the vehicle.

Walking or cycling as often as you can instead of driving will not only save on gas consumption, it will also cut down on the rate of depreciation on your car. These can be incorporated as part of your regular exercise regimen.

(d) Driving Intelligently

As far as possible (no pun intended) avoid driving on rough and bumpy roads (dirt or gravel) since this can raise the amount of fuel consumed by 30%.

Remove unnecessary weights or baggage from your car and make sure that you always travel with as light as possible so as to reduce your consumption. This includes clearing the trunk of all unnecessary tools, equipment and gadgets.

Any extra baggage you carry amounting to 100 pounds could impact your fuel consumption by 2%. Placing luggage and other stuff on top of your car will affect its aerodynamics so avoid this unless it is absolutely necessary.

Be efficient in terms of speed. Maintain the speed limit and avoid making sudden starts, stops and accelerations. Whenever you accelerate, ensure that you do so gradually. You should not step on the gas pedal more than one-quarter of the way down. Don't floor it unless it is absolutely necessary.

Whenever you start moving again after stopping at a sign, ensure that you engage the gas pedal slowly and then begin to gradually increase your speed. Stopping suddenly will not help you save gasoline. If you find yourself hitting the breaks often, this is an indication that your driving is erratic and you need to slow down. Maintain your speed at the level indicated on the highway and use cruise control if your vehicle is equipped with one.

A study done by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) showed that driving a full-size sedan with the windows rolled down created a 20% reduction in fuel efficiency. So it is necessary to test your vehicle to see how it responds in different conditions in order to identify the most cost-effective way to use it.

(e) Warming Up

Avoid warming up your car for too long. Usually, 30-45 seconds are sufficient. It is recommended that you remove the automatic check after the warm-up.

During winter, use a block heater to warm up your vehicle before taking it out for a ride. In hot weather conditions, ensure that your car is parked in the shade.

(f) Consuming Mileage

There are several products in the market today which are being promoted with claims that they can help you save mileage or reduce your fuel consumption. it is always important to do your research first before trying any one of them.

When it comes to saving costs over time, fuel injector cleaners can make a big difference. it is possible for these injectors to get stuck, which means that they will not be able to ignite at the proper time or release the required amount of fuel.

Though this actually sounds like it can be a good thing since less fuel would be consumed, the reality is actually the opposite. If the filters are not replaced on time and the injectors are not kept in a clean condition, they will hamper your mileage. Remember to add a fuel injector cleaner when you go to the gas station.

(g) Replacing Your Ride

Purchase a vehicle that is smaller and less expensive to maintain. For prudent owners, the value of a car stretches beyond the aesthetic appeal and takes into consideration the real costs.

An example of such a train of thought would be yes, this model is an absolute knockout, but what exactly is the gas mileage per gallon? The typical situation is such that the larger the vehicle is, the more fuel it will likely consume under operation.

Due to the increase in floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, there are many cars in auctions and other places which may look alright on face value and according to the paperwork. They could however be short-lived and quickly land you in a pile of bills. So be careful and do your due diligence.

If you opt to rent a vehicle, you will need to pay for the gasoline, so ensure that you select a car that is most fuel-efficient. The same applies to the moment you decide to purchase a new car. It may be best to go for a hybrid or one with the best mileage rating.

Always check the return policy when you purchase a car from a dealer. Study the terms and conditions carefully and see whether the legal duration of time to return the car are in place. it should be within your power to void the purchase or cancel it within a reasonable time.

Avoid extended warranties as these will typically cost more than the actual value of the privilege itself. It would be better to find a vehicle that is more stable and durable than to go for an extension of warranty.

(h) Refueling

In cold weather conditions, gasoline will typically become denser as temperatures fall. The gas pump is designed to measure the volume of gasoline and not the density. It is therefore wise to limit the purchasing of your fuel to either the morning or the evening.

When you head out to the gas station, carry your fuel credit card with you, in order to make full use of discounts and other offers available as these could typically cut down expenses from 5-10%.

Don't use premium if your car is running on regular gasoline. Consider the fact that switching to premium will cost you much more per gallon.

Also when at the gas station, check the octane rating indicated on the gas pump and compare this with what has been recommended by your car manufacturer to ensure that they match.

(I) Planning Your Route

Your ability to save money on your car depends on when, where and how you drive. As much as possible, make it a habit to plan your route in advance. Avoid basing your decisions on familiarity or past experience alone. Simply having traveled several times on a particular route does not mean that it is always going to be the same.

Use available resources available on traffic and route updates to confirm the situation before you set off (especially if you live in a busy location) so that you do not find yourself stuck in traffic or impeded by other encumbrances. Avoid rush hours as much as possible.

If a tree has fallen, there has been an accident or the road has been blocked by the authorities, you need to be aware in advance so that you can reroute accordingly. At the same time, be current on the geographical features in your vicinity such that you can always take advantage of the shortest and least costly alternative.

If you have a vehicle that has been around for a long time, you could consider canceling its collision coverage as way of saving on insurance.

Taking Responsibility

Try to learn something new each week on how to service your vehicle so that you can do the repairs yourself when something goes wrong, instead of paying a lot of money for a technician to do it for you.

As we have already noted, there are some basic skills like changing your wipers, batteries, air filters, tires that do not require you to have technical experience or training. You could also learn how to wax and wash your car yourself and keep visits to car washes to a minimum e.g. no more than three times in a year. If there is an electric fault with the car, check first if there is a fuse that has blown instead of contacting a tow-truck straight away.

Remember, a complete tune-up on most vehicles is not required for less than 100,000 miles, so there is no need to spend hundreds on that. Instead, study the manufacturer's specifications on the maintenance of each part (like the timing belts and the shock filters) and change them according to those specifications.

However, there are cases where the presence of a professional mechanic is best, for example, if you observe thick clouds of black, blue or gray smoke emanating from the tailpipe. But even if there has been a breakdown or there are major inspections or repairs to be made on the car, don't be in a rush to foot the first bill quoted to you by the mechanic.

Ask around for second opinion and research on how much others would likely charge for the same job. Always have the question in mind: what is the industry price for this specific job?

Use private garages instead of leaving your vehicle at the dealerships for servicing since the former tend to be cheaper. Also, check with your agent to see if your company has any special offers for anti-lock brakes, airbags, car alarms, driver courses or even maintaining a good driving record.


Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on January 26, 2021:

Thanks for your remark. Yes, prevention is always better than cure. Some small fixes here and there can result in big savings over time.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 29, 2020:

You give useful money-saving tips in this article. Our car is at the garage for a routine service today, so it's especially appropriate to read an article like this. The quote for the work was a little steep, but I fugure that keeping the car properly maintained might prevent more expense in the future.