5 ways to save money on your car (that don’t involve catching the bus)

When it comes to running a car, costs can creep up on you. One minute, you’re happily driving around town without a care in the world, and the next you’re shelling out half the value of the car because your floor mats need realigning.* Carolyn Tate shares the 5 best ways to keep your money in your pocket when it comes to running your car.

By Carolyn Tate

Australians spend between $10,000 and $20,000 a year on running their cars, according to Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ). And with petrol prices hitting record highs this year, analysts are saying anything less than $2 a litre could be a luxury of the past – like 1c lollies or free pizzas if they’re not delivered in 30 minutes.

But all is not lost. While Citro can’t protect you from rising fuel prices, there are actions you can take to make running your car more affordable, so you don’t have to resort to public transport just yet.

Here are some actions that can save you money on your car.

1. Shop around for regular maintenance

Okay, so you have to go to the mechanic in order to keep the mechanic away, but prevention is almost always better than the cure. Keeping your vehicle in top shape can result in fewer trips to the mechanic for expensive repairs, prolong the life of your car, and increase the resale value. But don’t make the mistake of being loyal to your dealership.

It’s a common misconception you need to get your car serviced at the dealership to maintain the manufacturer’s warranty; you don’t. Read more on CHOICE.

Car mechanics must be licenced in most Australian states and territories, and all businesses have obligations to consumers under Australian Consumer Law.  

Understand the rules in your state:

2. Consolidate your trips, especially in winter

Multiple short trips can guzzle your petrol, especially if your engine is cold. Petrol-powered cars use more fuel in cold weather, according to Shell, for a few reasons:

1. Cold air is denser, creating more drag on your car.

2. Cold oil is more viscous, which increases the friction your engine and drivetrain have to overcome.

3. Batteries are less efficient in extreme temperatures, especially the cold, which means your alternator has to work harder.

4. You use more features that chew up your petrol, like heaters, defrosters, and seat warmers.

By combining your errands into one trip, you give your engine time to warm up and run more efficiently, which will save you petrol.

3. Practise ‘eco-driving’

Road ragers might want to avert their eyes, but aggressive driving with speedy acceleration and abrupt braking is inefficient when it comes to fuel consumption. The RACQ recommends we instead adopt ‘eco-driving’, which they say can both cut your fuel bills and your carbon dioxide emissions.

Eco-driving involves adopting a more mindful attitude behind the wheel, by:

1. Watching ahead and driving smoothly

2. Braking and accelerating gently

3. Avoiding stop-start driving

4. (If you’re driving a manual) using the right gear for the conditions and shifting through gears as quickly as possible

5. Staying in the 2000 to 2500 rpm range (for petrol cars; 1500-2000rpm for diesel)

6. Use cruise control or maintain a steady speed on open roads

7. When safe, keep your highway speed around 90km/hr

You can learn more about eco-driving with RACQ’s online course.

4. Pump up your tyres

Under-inflated tyres can cost you in more ways than one. First, they’re the leading cause of tyre failure, according to Tyrepower, because they cause too much of the tyre to be in contact with the road, and that increases their wear and tear, as well as making your brakes perform less efficiently and increasing fuel consumption due to the rolling resistance.

RACV’s general manager of automotive services, Jackie Pedersen agrees, telling the Sydney Morning Herald: “Looking after your tyres will not only reduce your fuel consumption, it will also extend tyre life and improve handling.”

Don’t just eyeball your tyres and assume they’re okay though. Check your car’s manual for the correct inflation and then the gauge at your local service station to be safe. NRMA recommends checking your tyres every week or two, or if you don’t drive that often, any time you pull in to buy petrol.

5. Shop around for fuel and insurance

Many of us tend to call into the petrol station closest to us and accept car insurance renewals without a second thought. But by shopping around, you could find a better deal on both.

Saving money on petrol can be a delicate balance, figuring out whether it’s worth it to drive to the next suburb or beyond to save a few cents a litre on fuel, but says that if you can find cheaper fuel less than 10km away, it’s probably worth the trip.  

To find the cheapest petrol:

Shopping around for car insurance has the potential to save you a lot of money each year, especially if you review your requirements regularly.

Moneysmart suggests that, if your car isn’t worth much and you could live without it if something happened to it, you consider having third party property insurance only because it’s the cheapest option. If you can’t afford to pay for repairs, however, and you need your car, you should go for comprehensive insurance.

Moneysmart also recommends you investigate:

1. Whether a no claim bonus will actually save you money

2. The exclusions in your policy to see what you’re not covered for – and if there’s anything you might need, such as being covered for rust or vandalism if you regularly park on the street

3. Whether insurers offer bundle discounts

4. Whether the insurer always charges an excess, even if the damage is not your fault

5. The difference between high premiums and low excess vs low premiums and higher excess

* Don’t pay anyone who tells you that your floor mats need realigning. They are a crook.

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