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How to save money on gas and transportation 

We sure do love our cars in the United States! Most of our lives revolve around the automobile. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 5% of Americans commute to work by public transportation. No wonder, 45% of Americans don’t even have access to public transportation. Most of us would not be able to function without a car. But that means we dedicate a significant amount of our budget to transportation. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help you save money on gas and transportation in general.

The average American spends nearly $11,000 a year on transportation and is the second largest household budget category (after housing). So, what can you do to save money on gas, on your car, and on just getting around?

The following are some of the ways you can save money when it comes to your automobile:

Trade down

We admit that having all the bells and whistles on your car can be quite enjoyable. But a fancy car may be costing you more than just a higher than necessary car payment. Nicer cars often require a higher ethanol level in your gasoline. You can save a lot of money on gas simply by having a car that does not demand any more than regular unleaded gasoline. A more economical car also costs less to maintain and repair. You can save a lot of money by selling your expensive car and buying one that is a little less expensive.

Consider your commute in your lifestyle decisions

The average American spends 55 minutes commuting every day. Not only is that a big chunk of your time, it can cost a lot in terms of gas and automobile maintenance. Reducing your commute, even a bit, can save a lot on gas. Think about your lifestyle choices—could your next place be nearer to work? Could your job include remote work? Maybe align your errands with your commute or time it better to avoid sitting in traffic. 

Many people do not have the luxury of being able to control their commute, but if you do, you may be able to save a lot of money on gas and auto maintenance. 

Periodically review your car insurance

You sign up for car insurance and almost forget about it. You pay for it a couple times a year and you are glad when you don’t have to use it. In order to save money, you hot periodically check to see if you’re getting the best rates. This is especially true if you are doing other things to control your transportation costs, like drive less or buy a less expensive car. It’s always important to make sure that you’re getting the best rate for the auto insurance coverage you want.

Don’t skip maintenance

When you’re trying to save money, it can be tempting to skip maintenance on your automobile. But maintaining your car can help it avoid costly repairs in the long run. One of the most common Financial disruptions in American households finances is an unexpected car repair. Those will come up one way or the other, but maintaining your car and making repairs early can help to prevent minor repairs becoming major repairs.

Do the easy jobs 

Cars have become complicated. They are practically computers on wheels. The time when it was reasonable for normal people to do some of their own car repairs seems like a distant memory at this point. There are still a lot of things that you can do yourself on your car, though. Anyone can replace things like windshield wipers, a car battery, and headlight lamps. And with a little patience and determination, most can change brake pads and timing belts. 

Doing simple car maintenance can save you money. Doing these easy jobs on your car can make sure you have the money when the big repairs come up. 

Change your own oil

One of the easier jobs you can still do with your car is to change the oil and filters. Doing the job yourself could save you between $30 and $50. And if you spend a bit more on the synthetic oil, you can take more miles between changing the oil, which can save you time as well. 

Read the fine print on auto financing agreements

When you are buying a new car (or just new to you) you can easily be enticed by marketing language: 0% down, low APR financing, or cost of the loan stated as a monthly payment. An auto financing agreement will have all the details that will really matter to the ultimate cost of the loan. And within that legal document can lurk some details you will want to make sure you understand. You will want to look at the loan period, service agreement, warranty, down or balloon payments, and any fees or financing charges. 

You can save a lot of money on your next purchase by keeping a close eye on that auto financing agreement and contesting, questioning, or rejecting anything that you don’t want. If your current auto loan rate is high, you could save significant money by refinancing with a lower rate.

Don’t buy too much car to save money on gas

When we’re shopping for a car, it’s easy to be enamored by all the bells and whistles. We can imagine all the things that we will be able to do with the cool, new features and how much better our life will be with them. But more often than not, most of a car’s features are ones that we won’t use very often. (It is highly likely that there are some features in your current car you may never have used!) And when we do use them, it’s not very frequently. 

An extreme example of this is the person who needs the ability to carry stuff twice a year and so bought a truck. For the rest of the year, that person is overpaying both in gas mileage as well as in a higher car payment than they really needed. They would have been better off renting a truck twice a year than buying a truck on the rare occasions they needed it.

Another example is the person shopping for an electric vehicle. They decide they need the extended range even though they have no plans to use the automobile for road trips. And if we did, it would be once a year or less. 

The most important thing you can do when you’re shopping for a car is to be really clear what features are really important to you. Once you’ve made a decision and you drive off the lot, you’re less likely to worry about the features you didn’t buy. But if you buy features you don’t need, you will be paying for them for up to 5 years. 

Avoid traffic tickets

Nothing can be as expensive as a leadfoot. Traffic tickets in the United States can cost as much as $200 or $300, not to mention the time it takes to go into traffic court or take a class to have the ticket expunged. In some cases one traffic ticket could equal a car payment every year. But that’s only where the costs begin. People with the speeding ticket on their record have a higher auto insurance premium then those who don’t. That one speeding ticket could cost you another $300 or $400 a year in insurance premiums. The opposite is also true. Those who have spotless driving records pay less for insurance premiums. 

One of the best ways to save money on your car is to avoid traffic violations.

Group your errands to save money on gas

According to the United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Americans take an average of 4 trips in their car every day, and almost half of those trips are running errands. We spend a lot of time behind the wheel of our car just going from one place to another. 

Just like you would create a shopping list when you go to the grocery store, you should create an “errand” list. Organize the errands you need to do to minimize how much driving you have to do and how many trips out of the house you have to take in a week. 

Grouping your errands and tackling them all at once will not only save you money on gas, it will also save you time. 

Wash the car at home

We admit that there’s something deeply satisfying about going through a car wash. The soap and the rollers. And probably even more important is the fact that you can be in and out within a few minutes and have a spotless car. We can also realize that there seems to be an instance of Murphy’s law that when you get your car washed it’s undoubtedly going to rain in the next couple of days. A bucket, a hose and a large sponge at home can often do the job well enough. In 15 minutes, you can have a clean car and you don’t have to spend $10 to $20. 

Save your money by washing your car at home. 

Improve your gas mileage to save money on gas

Every little bit counts when it comes to saving money on gas. There are several things you can change about the way you drive to improve your gas mileage. Many of these ideas would only slightly improve your gas mileage, which you might only notice on freeway driving. But if you combine several of these ideas together, you could be significant. Fixing several issues could help you save at the pump. If you really want to stretch your gas mileage, check out hypermiling. The following are things you can do to improve your gas mileage which will save you money on gas:

Gas savings tips

  • Keep your tires at the proper pressure: under-inflated tires provide a bit of drag which can decrease your mpg a little. 
  • Avoid idling: you can burn up to a half a gallon of gas idling for an hour. Waiting with the engine running will significantly impact your miles per gallon.
  • Drive slower: speed limits were mainly imposed in the 1970s as a way of conserving gas during a time of high oil costs. Driving a bit slower keeps the RPMs down.
  • Accelerate and decelerate gradually: zooming around can be a fun way to drive, but it wastes a lot of gas. You’re better off avoiding the engine’s need for the high-torque, low-effient lower gears.   
  • Use cruise control: keeping the car at a steady speed is often the most efficient way to get from here to there.
  • Limit the energy load on your engine: avoid using air conditioning and seat warmers when you don’t need them.
  • Don’t carry unnecessary weight: If you’ve got heavy stuff in your trunk you don’t need in there, it is likely hurting your gas mileage. 
  • Limit aerodynamic drag: carrying a rack on your car can produce enough aerodynamic drag to cost you between 1 and 2 mpg in fuel efficiency on the freeway. 

Financing rebates vs. paying cash

It’s so obvious that it hardly seems like it is worth saying: you can save a lot of money by not having to finance your car. Paying interest for four or five years can siphon off some of your money. 

But, it’s also not quite as simple as that. Car companies make an enormous amount of money on auto financing, so they are more likely to offer purchase incentives for people who seek in-house financing. 

So, is there a way to get the promotional pricing and still not commit yourself to being in debt? There might be. Car dealers will advertise $1500 off when financed or 0% financing for six months. Under those circumstances, you can finance the car only to pay the loan off early as soon as possible. This, of course, only works if there is not prepayment penalty or offsetting financing charge. So, keep an eye on the fine print, but otherwise there’s no reason to not balance your desire to save as much money as you can on buying the car and saving as much money as you can by not paying interest on a car loan. 

For more ways to save money, take a look at some of our other money savings articles. Here are some ways to save on utilities, how to save on entertainment and even ideas to save when shopping.

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Jonathan Walker