Updated on 04.15.13

31 Days To Fix Your Finances, Day 19: Evaluating Your Expenses – Automobiles

Trent Hamm

The Simple Dollar offers a month-long plan for fixing your finances. All you need is an open mind and an hour each day.

Almost all of us have an automobile. Many of us have two or more in our family. We all know that they’re money pits, requiring maintenance, gasoline, and repairs, but we need them to get around, so we often just feed the beasts without thinking about it.

Yet there are several simple things you can do that can reduce the monthly cost of your automobile usage. The biggest key is raising your gasoline efficiency, but other tactics work as well. Take a look:

Go easy on the brakes. Braking is incredibly inefficient. Coast to a stop when you see a red light instead of speeding up to it and then braking. Choose routes that have fewer red lights. Try to time your driving so that you hit all green lights, even if this means driving slower. You can easily increase your efficiency by 20% by doing this, which in a car that you drive 10,000 miles a year and gets 15 MPG can save up to $250 a year (depending on your normal driving conditions). Yeah, just by laying off the brakes.

Don’t speed. Keep it at 60 MPH or under, even if you feel like an old man on the interstate. Why? Every 5 MPH over 60 costs about 7% fuel efficiency. If you normally drive 75 on the interstate, trimming that back to 60 not only avoids tickets, but it also increases your fuel efficiency by about 20%.

Clean out your air filter. I do this once a month or so, but I suspect this will be the one tip that most people will avoid. It’s quite easy, though; for most cars, it’s simply removing a nut, lifting up a plate, pulling out your air filter, blowing the dust off of it and tapping it a bit to get rid of the dust, and then putting the filter, plate, and nut back into place. This increases your fuel efficiency by about 8%, which in a car that you drive 10,000 miles a year and currently gets 15 MPG can save about $110 a year.

Inflate your tires up to the manufacturer’s recommendation. If you don’t know what this is, go out and find out what tires you have, then research them on the ‘net. Airing up your tires is really simple and can be done at most gas stations for free. For every two PSI that your tires are below the maximum recommendation, you increase your fuel consumption by nearly a percentage point. Many people have tires that are 10 PSI or more below their maximum, which reduces fuel efficiency by at least a mile per gallon. How much will that save? If you drive 10,000 miles a year and your auto currently gets 15 MPG, just keeping your tires inflated will save $93.75 a year (assuming $2.25 a gallon for gas).

Keep your car clean. Excess weight reduces your fuel efficiency, so cleaning out your car (especially of anything heavy) will save money on gas.

Turn off your car during long waits. Stuck in traffic and nothing’s moving? Turn off your car. If it’s off for more than thirty seconds, you’re saving money. If it’s off for several minutes, you’re doing really well.

Keep an eye on gas station prices. Stations can vary quite a bit, even from day to day. Keep an eye open on your way to work to see which is cheapest, then hit that station on the way home. This variation is especially true if you cross state lines, as most states have a pretty strong variance in gas prices. For example, Iowa’s gas prices are much cheaper than in Illinois, so if I go to Illinois, I fill up before crossing the border. I can save $0.15 a gallon or so by doing this.

If you start adding up these numbers, you’ll realize quickly that you can save some serious cash, especially if you’re driving a fuel-inefficient vehicle. If you’re able to get your SUV from 10 MPG to 14 MPG using these tips, over a year of driving 10,000 miles and with gas averaging $2.25, you’ll save $650. That’s more than $50 a month just for keeping an eye on your car and driving a bit more cautiously.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at cutting down on food costs and read Jeff’s article on DIY car modifications to keep insurance rates low.

Ready? Let’s continue on to the next day.

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  1. Matt Brubeck says:

    Important note: In general, you should inflate your tires to the recommended pressure in your car owner’s manual. You can also find this on a sticker inside one of your car’s door posts.

    DO NOT inflate the tires to the pressure listed on the tire’s sidewall. This is a maximum pressure rating for the tire. It might be higher than the maximum safe pressure for your particular car. Blowouts are unsafe, and do not save money!

  2. Good Fortune says:

    I live in Southern California, where driving isn’t something you do, it’s a way of life. I think your tips are great. I’d also add, “buy your gas mid week, Thursday if possible, when gas prices are lowest”.

    The weekend, and the “bracket days” of Friday and Monday are the most expensive days for gas, at least around here.

  3. mathieum says:

    Just remember, cheaper gas also can be lower quality gas, and you’ll lose mileage on the difference. It can actually be less expensive overall to spend a few extra cents per gallon on higher quality gas. Also, running the same fuel mix from week to week improves your mileage, so shop one single gas station (or at least brand name) whenever possible. I have only filled up at Shell stations for the past year.

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