Driving Down Costs

I noticed something missing from the road recently—shiny new cars. Just one look around the freeway or parking lot and it’s easy to see GM and Ford aren’t bluffing when they say Americans have stopped buying their products.

The trend hasn’t really affected me personally because I’ve actually never purchased a new car (it's not that I’m trying to be some holier-than-thou thrift goddess—my family just happens to be in the used car business). But I know many people who, until recently, would lease a new vehicle every two years or less. They changed cars almost as much as they changed cell phones. These are the people who laughed at friends with 20-year-old (and still running) Toyotas and scoffed at those who bought “pre-owned.” But they’re not laughing anymore. They’re too busy making super-high car payments—or trying to figure out how to avoid repossession.

But even if you’re guilty of buying a new set of wheels before the economy tanked, there are ways to avoid being in the same boat. First, avoid buying another car if possible. If you can make it through just a few more years of payments, you’ll be free and clear (if your current driver does bite the dust, though, consider buying used—and, unless you trust the seller, ideally from a reputable company like Carmax). Second, take good care of the car you have—it will save money in the long run. Here’s how.

Use preventive maintenance

Think of this as healthcare for your car. You wouldn’t go without brushing your teeth and then be shocked to get a cavity, right? Well, forgo regular oil changes and car checkups and you are asking for trouble. Most car service centers recommend changing oil every 3,000 miles, while car manuals warn not to go over 7,000 or so. Under normal driving conditions, you can probably get away with somewhere in between (but to be on the safe side, stick to the 3,000-rule—especially if you tow things with your car or you live in a cold climate where it’s often started up in freezing weather). Also have your mechanic check small stuff, like tires, belts and fluid levels. Preventive maintenance is a small price to pay if it prevents the need for major repairs down the road.

Slow down

Every 10 mph you drive over 60 is the equivalent of gas going up 54 cents per gallon, according to CNN Money. The faster you go, the more air resistance your car faces—and the lower your fuel economy will be. I’m not saying to drive like Granny, but at least follow the speed limit. Not only does slowing down save gas and wear and tear to your car, but it reduces your chances of causing an accident and gives you more time to react when another driver does something stupid. Fewer accidents lead to lower insurance.

Save on insurance

Speaking of insurance, you should consider getting it if you don’t have it (and consider keeping it if you do). Yes, it’s expensive (I know I cuss every time I see our bill) but there are ways to make it less painful. Go online to a website like Carinsurance.com to compare rates. If you already have insurance but find you can’t afford it, consider changing your coverage. Lowering your comprehensive and collision coverage (to a level you’re comfortable with, of course) can save big bucks. Switching to a higher deductible can also lower payments, though you’ll have to go a couple years accident-free for it to really pay off. Other ways to save include buying a used car (or holding off on buying a new one)—the older your car, the lower your insurance cost—and decreasing mileage (by carpooling, for instance).


Not only does carpooling save money on gas (which is slowly but surely getting more expensive), but it reduces mileage. When you lower your overall mileage, your insurance company will usually reward you with a lower bill. Calculate how much mileage you’ll save each year with your carpool schedule, and let your insurer know. That’s not all, though. Less mileage equals less oil changes, less wear on tires, and less time stuck in traffic (time is money, you know), not to mention less nasty pollution.

For more ideas on how to save, order our free Financial Toolkit. Or receive it in person when you sign up for our upcoming community workshops. And if you’re worried about more than just saving a few bucks—say, you’ve dug yourself a serious debt hole and now you can’t afford insurance or creditors are threatening to take your vehicle—we can help you there, too. When you fill out our free debt evaluation form, we’ll schedule a one-on-one analysis with a debt relief attorney who specializes in helping people dig their way out of debt while keeping their cars and homes.

Take care of what you have—be it your finances or your car—and it will last longer. And don’t worry that the grass is greener (or the cars are shinier) on the other side of the fence—it’s also a heck of a lot more expensive over there.

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