9 of the Absolute Best Ways Anyone Can Save on Car Costs

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New or used, sporty or practical, a car is not only a major purchase, but it keeps wringing money out of its owner throughout its lifetime. Gas, oil changes, accidents — no question, a car is an expensive family member.

But for many of us, especially those who don’t live in one of the few American cities with reliable public transit, a car is also a necessity. Until that “Star Trek” transporter technology comes through, we’ll be driving — and fixing, and filling up, and coaxing — our cars to keep on running for years to come.

That’s why even the smallest ways to save on car costs are important. From the right insurance policy to simple car-maintenance tips, knowing how to keep your car’s insistent monetary demands at bay can put more cash in your wallet. Rev those engines, here are nine ways to save on car costs that absolutely everyone can do.

1. Take a defensive driving course

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Careful drivers are cheaper to insure. Although it may have been decades since you last took any driver’s ed, check into taking a defensive-driving course to brush up on how best to protect yourself out there on the highways. If you’re an AARP member, they even have an online course you can take, and the group estimates that doing so will save you $200 with your insurance company.

2. Check with your insurance agent for other ways to trim costs

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The defensive-driving course is just the beginning. Make a call to your insurance agent and talk about other ways you can shave down your policy costs. You don’t want to be underinsured, but there are ways to save, especially if you only drive a small number of miles per year. And if you switch any other insurance policies (homeowners, renters, a jewelry policy) to the same agent, you may get a deal for bundling them.

3. Use cruise control

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Know how and when to use your cruise control, and don’t be afraid to use it. AARP estimates doing so can reduce your highway fuel usage by 7 percent. Depending on how much you drive and how much of that travel is on the highway, you could save around $100 annually.

4. Don’t be a car snob

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When you buy or lease your next car, think seriously about a less-expensive model. Here’s where you can save thousands from the start, simply by choosing a Mazda over a Mercedes, or a slightly used car over a brand-spanking new vehicle. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson says he’s never owned a new car, since such a car loses thousands of dollars in value the minute you drive it off the lot. You don’t have to pick the oldest jalopy in town, but no one needs a personal limo.

5. Be smart about gas

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Someday we may all have electric cars, but until then, gasoline will remain a major part of your car budget. Be smart about where you buy it and how you pay for it. Many grocery stores or credit cards offer loyalty points that can be used at certain gas stations — don’t let those go to waste. And there are smartphone apps, such as GasBuddy, that can help you find the cheapest gas in your area.

For more ideas on saving on gas, check out: “This Is the No. 1 Mistake Drivers Make When Filling Up.”

6. Cool down your hot foot

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If your speed goes up, your gas mileage will go down. Don’t be the Mario Andretti of your Minnesota suburb. And don’t slam down on that brake pedal either: You can double or triple the life of your brake pads if you ease into stops instead of acting as if a bee just stung your braking foot.

7. Keep your tires properly inflated

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Driving with properly inflated tires can improve your gas mileage up to 3 percent, the EPA reports. That’ll show up at the gas pumps. And it’s easier than ever to do. These days, some modern cars show you a digital readout of your inflation level for each tire. If they don’t, there are digital and analog gauges you can buy for just a few dollars that are easy to use and read.

8. Take care of your car

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You don’t have to baby your car, but don’t ignore its needs, either. Regular oil changes, air-filter replacements and even something as simple as new wiper blades can keep it purring longer.

9. Handle small repairs yourself

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Not everyone is a mechanic at heart. But these days, many simple car-maintenance items can be performed at home by even fairly new drivers. Oil changes, tire rotations and air-filter replacement don’t really need a professional to do them. Get a handy friend to show you the first time, or consider taking a basic car know-how course at your local community college.

What tricks do you have to keep your car costs at bay? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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