Insurance, fuel, loan interest, maintenance, repairs, depreciation – all the expenses associated with owning and driving an automobile can take a huge bite out of your family budget. Some of these are sunk costs. Because the money is already spent – the down payment to purchase your car, for example – such costs are irrelevant when budgeting for the future. But other costs of owning and operating a vehicle can be pared down substantially. Shopping around for a better insurance rate or discovering a station that sells cheaper gas may save hundreds of dollars over time. Being vigilant about routine maintenance is also a great way to reduce operating costs and avoid major repair bills.
To make a dent in your car maintenance budget, follow these five tips from the pros.
- Read the owner’s manual. That little booklet in your glove box is full of detailed information about your car. It also includes a recommended maintenance schedule, which is more reliable than the sticker the auto shop attaches to your windshield after an oil change. If you’ve lost your owner’s manual, maintenance recommendations for your car are often available on websites such as www.carcare.org.
- Shop around for repairs. Generally speaking, independent repair shops tend to charge less for repairs than dealerships. But be cautious. Ask family and friends for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to get several estimates. If possible, find a shop with at least one certified automobile technician.
- Change your oil regularly. Depending on your car’s make and model, as well as driving conditions in your town, “regularly” will vary. Again, the owner’s manual should be your guide to determine how frequently to change lubrication fluids. How long an engine functions without major repairs is often directly correlated to how routinely the oil was replaced.
- Use cruise control. In general, driving at a constant speed improves gas mileage. You’ll need fewer trips to the gas station if you keep an even pressure on the accelerator instead of lurching through town like a student driver.
- Check your tires. Another key to better gas mileage is to keep your tires properly inflated. The recommended tire pressure of the vehicle’s original set of tires may be listed on the door jamb sticker. If you have purchased a new set of tires, the tire pressure may be different than the original set. Rotating the tires regularly will also help to evenly distribute wear and tear and may keep your shock absorbers from needing replacement as often.