Saving Money on Your Car
For a huge number of households, one of the biggest expenses is running a car or other vehicle. There are the (relatively) fixed costs, such as tax, lease payments, insurance and servicing, and then there are also more variable costs, such as fuel. Many households have more than one vehicle, so the cost is multiplied. Vehicles also have hidden environmental costs in terms of pollution.
This page provides some ideas and tips for saving money on your car—and also reducing the environmental impact of your car ownership. Some of these are relatively minor, and related to reducing the cost of running your existing car. Others are more radical, and involve changing your car, or looking at different models of car ownership. Whatever you try is likely to help you to reduce your spending at least a small amount.
Your Driving and Car Maintenance Habits
The first step in making a change to your driving is to consider how you drive, both your speed and your habits.
Most cars are designed to be maximally efficient at around 55 miles per hour (90kph). They struggle to work efficiently around town, but much faster speeds are also less efficient. If you regularly drive long distances, a small reduction in speed could result in significantly lower fuel costs. Giving yourself an extra half an hour to make your journey may seem costly in terms of your time, but perhaps you could use the extra driving time to listen to a podcast or start learning that language, like you’ve been promising yourself for years.
Taking slightly longer to accelerate and decelerate is also more efficient, as is using all your gears fully. Automatics do this for you—which explains why they are generally more fuel-efficient than manual vehicles.
It is a good idea to turn your engine off when you are idling. Yes, you won’t be able to run the air conditioning, but you will also not be using any fuel. It is also a good idea to use the air conditioning only when you really need it. It is extremely costly to run.
It is also worth making sure that you have your car serviced regularly, and look after it. A bit of DIY maintenance will pay off in the longer term.
Checking your tyre pressure regularly will ensure that you keep your tyres at the right pressure. This is significantly safer, but can also reduce your fuel use, and also extend the life of the tyres. Tyre manufacturer Michelin says that under-inflated tyres are likely to overheat, use more fuel and wear out more quickly. The company suggests that even 7 psi (0.5 bar) difference from the manufacturer’s recommendation could reduce tyre life by more than 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles).
Removing roofracks and roofboxes when not in use will have a significant impact on your fuel economy. It is also worth emptying the car each time you drive it, so that you are not carrying around excess weight.
Don’t Forget Your Insurance
Insurance is one of the biggest single costs of owning and running a car. It is worth shopping around at renewal time each year to make sure that you get the best deal for your money. It is also worth considering whether you might apply for any special deals such as:
- Cheaper insurance based on your driving habits. Having a ‘black box’ installed in your car can mean lower premiums if you drive more safely.
- Insurance targeted at specific groups. Some insurers lower their costs by targeting specific groups, such as women or older people. This means that their pricing can be more accurate—and may be cheaper.
- Multicar insurance. If you have several cars in your household, even if you’re not related, you may be able to save money by buying multicar insurance, which covers several cars at the same address.
Reducing the distance that you drive each year will save money on fuel, and also the general wear and tear on your vehicle.
Start with your commute to work. If you usually drive, are there alternatives? You might, for example, consider using public transport, sharing journey with one or more colleagues who live nearby (for example, you might take it in turns to drive each other), or commuting by bicycle or even on foot once or twice a week if that is possible.
It is also worth considering your car use beyond commuting. Can you reduce that at all? For example, could you have your groceries delivered instead of going to the supermarket? Can you cycle or walk your children to school and/or extracurricular activities?
Even changing your habits on one day per week, or for one drive at a time, is a helpful start. You can then build up over time to reduce your car use.
Reducing the Number of Household Vehicles
Consider how many cars you have in your household. Do you really need that many, or could you cut down? It might be less convenient, but could you manage without one or more if you were all a bit more flexible about when and how you drove? This may look impossible at first—but it might get easier once you have tried to reduce the amount that you drive.
It is also worth considering whether your children really need a car the moment they can drive, or if you could make them wait a year or more. They will probably be safer drivers for waiting a year to own a car, or even to learn to drive.
You might also consider whether you could replace any of your cars with smaller and/or more fuel efficient vehicles.
A big car is useful when you’re going on holiday—but it might be more economical to have a smaller runaround for 50 weeks of the year, and hire a bigger car during your holiday. You will not have to fund the depreciation on the larger vehicle, and a smaller one is also cheaper to run and insure.
While you are thinking about changing your cars, it is worth considering hybrid and electric cars.
These are more expensive to buy, but usually cheaper to run. They may also have significant tax advantages over a petrol or diesel car, and are exempt from any clean air zone charges. These advantages may enable you to save you money very quickly. You may also find that an electric car has other benefits (see box).
Vehicle to grid technology
Vehicle to grid technology allows you to use the battery of an electric car to store energy, and discharge it back into the grid when it is most needed. This has several advantages:
- You can charge your car at night, when it is cheaper, and then sell the energy back to the grid at a higher price.
- You can charge your car cheaply, and then draw on it yourself when prices are more expensive, using it as a mains-fed battery for your house.
At the moment, this technology is limited. For example, in the UK, EDF Energy offer it as an option to business customers, but not residential. However, over time it is likely to spread to residential customers.
Car-pooling allows you to pay a weekly or monthly subscription that gives you access to a car when you need it. You can therefore use a car if you want to do a big supermarket shop, or go out somewhere for the day. However, you do not have the costs of maintenance or depreciation that come with car ownership.
Car-pooling may seem like a radical option—and it is probably only suitable for those who live in cities with very good public transport systems.
However, if your car use drops to the point at which you are wondering whether you really need a car, then it is worth considering car-pooling to give you a bit more flexibility—and far fewer costs than ownership. Perhaps you could try it for a few weeks while you consider whether it is worth it for the long-term.
A Final Thought
We might recognise the problems of pollution and congestion, but there seems little doubt that cars are here to stay for at least a few more years. Few of us are ready to give up the freedom and flexibility of having our own transport—and in a form that keeps us warm and dry. Even in big cities, car ownership is the norm, and in rural areas, with limited public transport, it is essential.
However, there are still ways in which you can save by changing your habits, shopping around, and simply thinking differently about your options.