7 Tips for Frugal Car Owners

Few people would deny that owning a car can be an expensive exercise. From paying your road tax to buying fuel, from insuring your vehicle to annual wear-and-tear, being a car driver can cost you a lot of money. And of course these are the regular, predictable costs of car ownership.

More than a few people have ended up having a mechanical fault of some form and having to shell out hundreds of pounds to get their vehicle back on the road.

On the other hand many of us rely on our vehicles to take the kids to school, get to the local supermarket and visit family and friends around the country. So assuming that giving up your car really isn’t a practical consideration the next question is what we can do to minimize the cost of car ownership?

Get the Right Breakdown Cover

Most of us concerned about the obscene costs of owning a car opt for an older vehicle. They typically cost less to buy and suffer far less depreciation than newer cars but there is a potential downside; namely that older cars are more likely to suffer mechanical problems. And breaking down is never fun.

Unless you’re very mechanically-minded and can repair just about anything you’re going to want to invest in some kind of roadside recovery membership. However when you do so, you should consider what services you really need here.

Car breakdown cover

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You see, many breakdown services offer all manner of fancy add-on services. From replacing your windscreen to providing you with a free courtesy to helping you if your car won’t start at home.

None of these are necessarily a bad idea but the frugal car owner should ask themselves which of these are really necessary. After all you may well be able to drop many of these more “advanced” services, leaving you with just the basic – yet perfectly acceptable – roadside breakdown service. These more basic services can cost considerably less than the full-blown “bells and whistles” recovery services.

Build an Emergency Fund

Sooner or later your vehicle will need to have some money spent on it. To give you a personal example I recently suffered a damaged wheel bearing that needed to be replaced. While it was hardly a major job, it still cost me £150 – something that I’d rather have not spent just before Christmas.

The fact of the matter is that a surprise expense like this could have totally blown some people’s budgets. Especially in December, such a sum of money could have caused a financial meltdown.

Emergency fund

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Fortunately my situation was rather different thanks to my emergency fund. I maintain a separate bank account with easily-accessible funds for emergencies just like this. As a result not only was I back on the road within a few hours but the emergency had absolutely no effect on my December budget.

Being able to weather these unexpected charges without having to rely on credit cards or (even worse) over-priced payday loans can be a real boon for keeping your spending in check.

Invest In Excess Insurance

When you insure your car you’ll agree to two separate charges; the premium that you pay annually or monthly and then an excess that you’ll need to pay in the case of a claim. While a typical excess here in the UK might come out at around £100 it is possible to arrange an insurance policy with a larger excess (a so-called “voluntary excess”).

It’s worth knowing here that opting for a policy with a larger excess will generally drop the overall cost of your insurance policy. The only problem of course comes if you ever need to make a claim, whereby you’ll be expected to stump up that sizeable excess that you volunteered for.

Excess insurance however reduces this financial liability. In the case where an insurance claim is made against your policy your excess insurance will kick in, helping to cover this voluntary excess.

Maintaining these two insurance policies – a standard motor insurance policy plus a separate excess insurance policy – can work out considerably cheaper than just the one, saving you a lot of money.

Drive to Save Fuel

Drive to Save Fuel

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You might not realize this but the way you drive can actually affect the amount of fuel you use; and as an extension just how much you spend on your car each month. For example, to conserve fuel you should aim to avoid rapid, harsh acceleration or deceleration. Generally speaking driving at a constant speed in the highest gear will also yield a far better fuel mileage. For plenty more tips do a quick search for “hypermiling” and try to put the advice given into action.

Learn Basic Maintenance

Taking your car to the garage for routine maintenance tasks like changing tyres, break blocks or wiper blades can be surprisingly expensive. The parts are only a tiny part of the overall bill; the majority of your bill goes on paying the mechanic’s wages.

As a result, learning how to complete some of these routine maintenance tasks yourself at home can rapidly slash the cost of maintaining your car, ensuring you’re only paying for parts rather than time.

Bad Spark Plug

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Take Advantage of Offers

Some garages, petrol stations and retailers put on time-limited offers. These aren’t just discounts on products but can even help you to make savings on services too. To give you a concrete example, a local automotive retailer in my area is offering a free winter car check as a way to draw in new customers.

Not only will they check your car wiper blades and your tyre tread but they’ll even top up your screen wash and anti-freeze for free. This simple service could save you money rather than having to buy new fluids for your car, not to mention saving you the hassle of doing the work yourself.

Keep To Your Servicing Schedule

Many car drivers seem to consider regular servicing to be an unnecessary luxury. However like holding off on dental work, the short term “savings” can quickly vanish in the long term when you see how much work really needs to be done.

Instead, try wherever possible to stick to the recommended servicing schedule for your model of car. Whether you do this yourself or have a professional mechanic do it, keeping your car in tip-top condition will maximize the lifespan of your car, as well as helping it to maintain it’s fuel-efficiency.

Main image adapted from a photo by Rick Harrison @ Flickr.

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Master of the budgets. Provider of the tips. Author and owner of Dumbfunded.co.uk.