Gas prices have been surging to record highs. But it's not just the gas bill that drivers are getting socked with. The costs of car insurance, tires, licensing and registration are on the rise, too. But there are some strategies you can use to cut the cost of owning your car.
Consider where you get your car serviced. Instead of going to your dealership for repairs, try going to an independent garage, says Phillip Reed of Edmunds.com, an online automotive Web site.
The repair isn't necessarily cheaper, but dealerships often push you to replace or repair things that aren't immediately necessary, he says. So instead of having your transmission fluid changed at 80,000 miles as the manufacturer recommends, your dealership may pressure you to change it at 15,000 miles.
"Every time you go in to a dealership, they are trying to add in extra things and then charging more to do them," Reed says. "The profit from a dealership moved from the front end to the back end." Since cars aren't selling at such high profit margins anymore, dealers are looking at how they can recoup that money through service costs.
Don't buy into maintenance myths.
It's been a mantra for generations: Change the oil every 3,000 miles. But before you pull into your local lube garage, take a look at your car's manual. Most auto manufacturers recommend you change the oil after 7,500 miles, Reed says. That's more than double the old standard.
You should change your oil at least twice a year, before the summer driving season and before the first snowfall, says Tony Molla of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a nonprofit group for car repair and service professionals. Of course, if you drive under severe driving conditions, you may need to change your oil more frequently.
And keep in mind, if you use synthetic oil over conventional car oil, you can get more mileage out of your car.
And before you spring for the new tires at your dealership, go online first. You can save big bucks by buying your tires over the Internet and having them shipped to your garage. Reed saved $112 by going to www.tirerack.com. Enter some specifics about your car, and you'll get a list of tires and their prices, plus performance reviews from other customers.
Insurance rates are rising for the first time since 2006, according to Insurance.com, an online insurance agency. But there are ways to cut your premium.
First, make sure you maintain a good credit score. Most car insurers filter your credit information into a formula to determine what your "insurance risk score" is. This score determines how likely you are to file a claim. The lower your credit score, the higher premiums you'll pay.
So, keep paying your bills on time. If it's been a while since you've updated your car insurance, it'll be worth checking your credit score. If your score has improved, let your insurer know. You may be eligible for a lower premium.
And what you do for a living counts, too.
Allstate Insurance gives discounts for people in certain low-risk professions in a handful of states. So if you're a mail carrier, a biologist, a vet, a speech therapist or an economist in Alabama or South Carolina, you'll get 8 percent off your insurance.
And if you're locksmith, an artist, a clergy member, an accountant or a teacher, you'll qualify for a 5 percent discount. Police officers and firefighters can also get a 5 percent discount in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, and paramedics are eligible for a 10 percent discount.
Horace Mann Insurance also offers discounts to teachers who belong to state education associations or the National Education Association (NEA). These discounts start at 8 percent. Teachers under 30 can get discounts of 10-15 percent. For more information, check out Horacemann.com.
Updating your needs can also yield you some savings.
If you have a car that you've been driving for over 5 years and it's not worth much more than $5,000, consider dropping collision or theft insurance, Reed says. You will take on more risk, so if you have a lot of assets to protect or a family to consider, you may want to think twice about this option. But if you are single and don't have a lot of assets attached to your name, you could save 30-50 percent off the bat on your insurance.
And don't forget to double up. Buying your auto insurance and your home insurance from the same place can save you 10 percent at some companies. Many insurers have multi-policy discounts.
Even if you've been with your insurer for years, you may not know about a lot of other discounts that your company offers, says Sam Belden of Insurance.com. They include:
- Low-mileage discount: If you drive less than a certain amount of miles per year.
- Good student discount: If your teen has a B average or above, you can get 10-20 percent off
- Professional groups: Your AAA membership, union, fraternal organization or alumni association may get special group discounts.
- Take a defensive driving course: Most insurers will give you a break on your premium if you take an approved defensive driving class in your area.
Making your car last
Want to improve your car's longevity?
Don't let your gas tank needle get to empty, says Molla, who doesn't let his car fall below half a tank. When your tank runs on fumes, sediment collects at the bottom of the fuel tank over time. And this sediment could clog or damage parts.
And keeping your car above half a tank has another psychological perk. "It's like you're only paying for half a tank when you fill up," Molla says.
Another important tip: Make sure your tires are inflated properly. Not only will you save gas, but your tires will wear more evenly and will be less likely to fail at high speeds, according to road tests done by Edmunds.com.