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Your car is arguably one of your top three highest monthly expenses.
It’s a big expense but a must-have for many people, especially if you live in a city without a well built out public transportation system.
How can you keep your car costs low?
Luckily, there are things you can do to lower this expense category in your budget and continue to help you live frugally.
Keep reading as we reveal these 8 things to do to keep car costs low.
Pro tip: Bookmark this post. You will want to come back to it!
Things to Do To Keep Car Costs Low
First, you want to look at every angle when it comes to your car costs.
What’s contributing to the costs?
And, how can you lower those costs?
- Annual recurring costs
Let’s take a closer look at these costs to uncover the money saving opportunity that lies beneath.
Lowering Fuel Costs
Now, if you have the opportunity to make these choices prior to buying or leasing your car, that’s great. If not, no worries, there are even more awesome tips down below to show you how to reduce your fuel costs.
For Your New Vehicle Purchase/Lease
- Going with a fuel-efficient vehicle
- Going with a regular gas vehicle
Fuel Efficient Vehicle
Going with a fuel efficient vehicle from the start means you’ll experience better gas mileage which translates to driving further on a tank of gas.
Driving farther on a tank of gas means you’re getting more out of your gas and will have to fill your tank up less often.
According to this source, if you compare two vehicle models within the same category and one is fuel-efficient while the other is not, you’ll get 20% to 30% better fuel economy on the gas-friendly vehicle.
A fuel efficient vehicle requires less gas than it’s alternative, driving a distance from point A to point B.
In the U.S. this is measured in mpg (miles per gallon).
It’s desirable because if car A takes 3 gallons of gas to travel to the store and car B takes 6 gallons of gas to travel to the store, with the store being the same distance from the origin, car A is going to be better on your wallet because it uses less gas.
Take a look at this example of fuel-efficient vehicles, based on Consumer Reports most fuel-efficient cars report:
- 2019 Honda Insight
- 2019 Toyota Prius
- 2019 Hyundai Ioniq
- 2020 Toyota Corolla
- 2019 Honda Accord
- 2019 Toyota Camry
- 2019 Toyota Prius C
- 2019 Kia Niro
- 2019 Toyota Avalon
- 2019 Chevrolet Malibu
Regular Gas Vehicle
Next, purchasing a regular gas vehicle is something that should be considering if you’re looking for an affordable vehicle.
This might be news to you but, not all cars take regular gas. I don’t mean diesel gas or flex fuel, either.
Some cars need premium fuel.
So, when you go to the gas station and you see: Unleaded, Unleaded Plus, and Premium, you want to get a car that takes unleaded gas.
Many cars take premium!
In fact, my last vehicle took premium gas and I had no idea!
Despite a sticker near the interior of the gas tank that read “Must Take Premium Fuel,” I didn’t even notice this for the first several years of using the car.
You can read here to learn more about the difference between regular gas and premium gas, along with what happens in you put regular gas in a premium vehicle.
No known difference.
I put regular gas in my premium vehicle for 4 years and didn’t notice any big changes in how the car ran, operation, start up, etc.
In the end, if you are in a vehicle that requires premium gas, you may be more likely to gas up with premium, which means you’ll be spending more money on fuel, compared to a regular gas vehicle.
For Your Existing Vehicle
- Drive slower
- Avoid carrying extra weight
- Shop for the cheapest gas
- Don’t be an aggressive driver
- Use cruise control
- Be easy on the air conditioning
- Keep your tires inflated
Gas mileage tends to fall off around 50mph so if you drive slower, you can preserve your gas. Every 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is equivalent to adding around $.18 to the price of each gallon of gas.
No Extra Weight
Did you know that if you travel lighter, it’s actually better for your gas mileage?
That means you want to avoid carrying extra weight on your vehicle when driving. Adding an extra 100 pounds of weight to your car, can lower fuel efficiency by 1%, according to this source.
This includes traveling with those big, bulky cargo carriers on the roof of your car. Those can drop your fuel efficiency by even more.
If it’s necessary, go for it, but the moment you no longer need to carry that cargo container on your vehicle, make sure to take it down so your gas mileage doesn’t suffer.
Shopping the Cheapest Gas
You can shop the cheapest gas in town and there are a ton of sources to help you discover where to shop:
- Gas Guru
- Gas Buddy
- Gas Prices by MapQuest
Gas Guru is a free app that shows you gas prices from the Oil Information Service.
This means you’ll be getting real, up to date information on gas prices, that won’t leave you guessing.
- Finding cheap gas prices near you
- Full list of amenities, fuel types and services available for each gas station
- Filter your searches based on amenities like cash discount, ATM, 24Hr etc.
- Gas price comparison near work, home, or other favorite locations
- Ability to label and save your frequent locations for easy access to cheap gas nearby
- Filtering your search by gas/fuel grade and view results by map or list view
- Get the detailed info you need – directions, maps, prices of all grades, address, time of last gas price update, and more
You can find the app in the Google Play Store.
With Gas Buddy you can search gas prices by area (city/state/zip code) and search by brand, for all cities in the U.S. and Canada.
You’ll enjoy tools like:
- Gas price charts
- Gas price map
- Fuel insights
- Outage tracker
- And, more!
Learn more about Gas Buddy.
This crowdsourced navigation app can help you find the cheapest gas in your area.
You can set your preferred gas station, gas type, and sort according to brand and price.
This app is by MapQuest and helps you find the best gas prices.
- Find the best prices in your neighborhood, along your commute, and on road trips.
- Filter results by both price and distance to save time and money.
When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area last year, my city 3 hours away was impacted but, not in the way you think.
Although we were slated to receive 20+ inches of rain, we were spared and experienced no more than some light sprinkling for a few days during that week.
What followed after was unforeseen and an example of how rumors can devastate and impact your way of life (and your wallet).
Houston is an area known for their oil rigs and the rumor was that the oil rigs were impacted and there was a shortage of gas in Texas and surrounding areas.
The rumor was so big that city and regional news took to the air to squash all the rumors.
I remember hearing about this on TV, radio, from locals, etc.
There was no shortage of gas but because it was believed that there was, it was impossible to get gas for weeks.
People were scared and panicked and taking to the gas stations like wild fire. Folks were getting into arguments, fighting, getting arrested, and more.
This caused gas stations to actually run out of gas, because of the huge surplus of demand.
And, if you could get gas, you were not able to fill up your tank of gas without waiting at least an hour, usually longer.
Luckily, I was working at home at the time so I was able to wait out filling up my gas tank as long as possible.
How did I finally get gas?
I used the Gas Buddy app to find a nearby gas station in a developing area that many people didn’t know about and I actually got gas at 2am on a weeknight.
That tank of gas was enough to last me until the rumors subsided and things returned back to normal.
So gas apps can save you, literally.
Don’t be an Aggressive Driver
Save about $1 per gallon by avoiding being an aggressive driver, which can involve a lot of abrupt starting and stopping.
Use Cruise Control on Highways
Cruise control on highways is going to be your friend for saving money on gas since maintaining a stable speed while driving can help fuel efficiency.
Be Easy on the A/C
You may already know this but, using your air conditioner in the car can lead to higher fuel costs because A/C eats up gas.
Try rolling your window down sometimes and improve your gas mileage naturally.
Keep Your Tires Inflated
This is a good safety precaution and it helps your fuel efficiency, since poorly inflated tires use more energy (i.e. gas).
Lowering Maintenance Costs
Next, we look at the maintenance costs for autos, which may include:
- Oil changes
- Tune ups
- Vehicle equipment
- Car washes/detailing
The list of maintenance costs might feel overwhelming but it’s important to know that there are ways to lower and/or eliminate these costs.
First, make a list of needs and wants.
What is needed for your car?
This means what is required to keep it operational and running.
What is wanted for your car?
These are not needs but wants that help you enjoy your vehicle more, etc.
Once you determine your needs, organize them according to most important. Then, one by one, identify ways to lower that cost.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Cutting the Cost of Oil Changes
Oil changes are a necessity.
They are required to keep your car engine in tip top shape.
What does oil do?
The oil in your car keeps the vehicle running smoothly, by lubricating the engine to carry heat away from it.
Oil circulates through the engine, providing lubrication for tons of different components within the engine, while drawing heat away from it.
Oil changes are needed because as the oil moves through the engine, it accumulates build up (dirt and debris) and you want to keep the engine free of this build up. If your car oil is not changed, it will become too dirty to do it’s job.
What happens if your oil is not changed?
You will start to have a lot of problems with your auto.
Most commonly, the engine parts will become too hot, causing the engine to run less efficiently, which over time will lead to warp and wear. Eventually, the engine will stop working and will need to be replaced entirely, which is quite expensive.
And this is why a car’s oil must be changed.
How much do oil changes cost?
The cost can vary depending on your type of vehicle, type of oil used, facility that gives you the oil change service, and more.
For my mid-sized SUV, it runs around $50 and I remember it being as low as $19.99 about 15-20 years ago. It still might be that cheap depending on location and type of auto.
Oil changes are usually done ever 3-6 months, depending on your car.
It’s critical to your car’s functionality, as described above, and doesn’t take a lot of time to do.
So, how can you get cheaper oil changes?
Here are 5 ways you can lower the cost of your oil change:
- Change oil yourself
- Get a membership
- Work benefits
- Employee discounts
- Use coupons
Changing Your Oil Yourself
First, you can the oil change yourself.
In this guide, you can learn how to change your car’s oil yourself. A lot of people do this including, my father-in-law and brother-in-law’s. If you change the oil yourself, your only expense will be the cost of the oil.
Investing in a Membership to Save Up to 30% (or more)
Another way to lower the cost of oil changes if you don’t change oil yourself is to get a service membership at your car service center. Memberships tend to be cheaper than pay-as-you-go oil services and you can expect to slash up to 30% or more off the price of a typical oil change!
Consider looking at the benefits and amenities that come from your employer.
My best friend works for a company that offers basic car maintenance (oil changes, detailing, car washes) for free. See if your company offers the same.
In addition to that, some local car service centers offer employee or affinity discounts, based on where you work, senior citizens, military, college students, etc.
Coupons are another great way to save.
Our household gets oil change coupons at least once a week in the mail. You can also get coupons in your local newspaper, in community areas like the park or pool, college campus, work bulletin board, or online.
Reducing Tune Up and Other Service-related Costs
Other than oil changes, your car will need other maintenance, most likely.
For my 10 year old vehicle, aside from oil changes, the costs I’ve had to incur include:
- Buying new tires
- Getting the brakes serviced
- A/C filter change
Because I’m not a heavy driver, these have been my only costs thus far. A regular driver may have more expenses than this.
To cut costs on other service-related costs, try getting a service membership or getting on a payment plan, if the auto shop offers it. Get your service done at local mom and pop service stations which tend to be a lot cheaper than big service chains or dealerships.
How to Get Cheap Tires
Next, the cost of tires can be sky high.
On my current vehicle which I inherited from a family member, they put a brand new set of tires on the vehicle which exceeded $1,000! I have recently had to change out the tires and I only paid around $300.
I got used tires.
Used tires are available at a fraction of the price as new tires and can last very long. You probably won’t find used tires at your chain auto center or even Walmart, so be prepared to visit a local tire shop to get your tires for $35+ each!
How to Get Cheap Car Washes
Lastly, I’ll share how you can get cheap car washes.
Is a car wash expensive?
The drive-thru car wash in my neighborhood is $6 and includes free vacuuming so going once a week at around $24/month will add up to almost $300 per year!
$6 per wash doesn’t sound like a lot but when you look at the big picture, you can see that the cost does definitely add up.
How can you lower your car wash expense?
Do it yourself!
Wash your car yourself, whether it be in your driveway or visiting a self-service carwash center.
To wash your car yourself, you will need to invest around $10 to $20 in carwash supplies like:
- Extras (optional) like tire cleaner, dusting cloth for interior, glass spray, etc.
My dad is a big hand wash car washer. He enjoys washing his car himself. It acts as a stress reliever and gets him active and outside.
He replenishes his carwash supplies about twice a year so, assuming it’s a $20 spend for supplies, that’s around $40/year compared to nearly $300/year if you go to a car wash.
Visiting a self-service carwash center is a savings too. This is a carwash where you wash the car yourself. It will usually have a wand that sprays water, soap and cleaner and you pay by inserting quarters into the machine.
The savings here is about half that of a drive-thru carwash if you’re being productive washing your car.
Lowering Your Annual Recurring Costs
Then, we have your annual recurring costs which can include service costs like tuneup, A/C filter change, and services like this, described above.
Here are 8 more things you can do to keep car costs low, year after year:
1. Drive your car until you have to repair it
There’s no expiration date for how long you can keep a car.
Generally, the longer you can keep it, the more you’ll save, since it will likely be paid off and you can pocket the monthly payment. When repair bills start to stack up, it’s a sign that it may be time for a newer vehicle so keep this is in mind.
2. Have a good mechanic
There are some maintenance things you can do yourself to help you save money on your vehicle, like:
- Changing the oil
- Changing a tire
- Changing out a broken headlight
But, unless you’re a mechanic, the more complex items you’ll want to leave to a professional.
It is important to have a long time mechanic you trust who will give you quality work for a good price so, establish a mechanic early on and when complex service work needs to be done, use that mechanic every time.
In my home town, my parents did this with our mechanic up the street.
We lived in a smallish town of around 10,000 residents. There were multiple car repair shops in town but our family stayed with one.
This long standing relationship allowed us to be afforded perks that others were not, like:
- Keeping a running tab
- Getting our vehicle work done faster than other customers
- Getting quality work done at a great price
The relationships you build with people matter and can help you save time and money.
3. Stay on Your Maintenance Schedule
For example, depending on your vehicle, oil changes might be required every 3 months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Stick to this schedule and don’t be lax here. It will help to preserve your vehicle longer.
4. Keep Your Car Cool
This is easy and means making changes like parking in the shade, garaging your vehicle, and using a sun shade when you do have to park outdoors.
5. Give Your Car A Break
If you have the option to carpool, take advantage.
Not only will it save you on gas but it will give your vehicle a break too.
6. Minimize your Commute
This is a long standing argument my partner and I have.
For me, as a big researcher, I always check my destination and route in advance.
My goal is to get in and get out.
I don’t like wasting time and I’d much rather know where I’m going, how long it’s going to take and what route I’ll take, in advance of my trip.
My partner is the total opposite.
He likes to get out on the road and figure it out. He will drive from chain store to chain store to find a product, rather than look it up online or call. Total gas waster.
Take the shorter commute. This saves on gas and it saves your time.
7. Drive the Speed Limit
Not only will this save you from potentially getting a speeding ticket but driving at a constant speed rather than speeding and doing constant hard stops and stalls will help your fuel efficiency, saving on gas.
8. Shop Rates on Auto Insurance
Don’t be brand loyal when it comes to auto insurance.
Shop around and get quotes periodically because it can save you big, to the tune of hundreds of dollars per year or more.
Try taking 15 minutes out of your schedule about once a year and getting quotes from competitor auto insurance companies and see what you find.
Do these ideas inspire you to cut your car costs?
There are tons of ways to lower this expense, from buying a fuel efficient car to doing some small maintenance yourself, and other ways.
Don’t forget to bookmark this post, as you’ll probably come back to it in the future to continue to keep your car costs low.
Share your thoughts and comment down below. We’d love to hear from you!
Don’t miss these other helpful ways to help you save money in life:
- How to Save On Your Monthly Bills: 7 Easy Ways
- 10 Simple & Easy Frugal Tips That Will Save You Money
- 10 Tips On How to Save $10,000 In A Year Or More
- 51 Failproof Frugal Tips That Will Help You Save Money