How to put the brakes on car costs

Australia’s wide open spaces have prompted a long love affair with cars, but there is no getting around it – they are expensive to run and costs are only going up.

According to the Australian Automobile Association, even as Australia’s overall inflation rate eased slightly in the March quarter, transport cost rises accelerated.

In the March quarter, the typical Australian household spent 15.8 per cent of its income on transport, up from 15.1 per cent in the December quarter.

So what can you do? Here are a few tips to cuts down on costs.

Shop around 1

Maybe you have been loyal to your insurer, but you shouldn’t be. Shop around for a better price. You will almost always get a better deal.

And if you are a careful driver who has seldom made a claim, consider upping the excess, which should mean lower premiums.

Shop around 2

There is a myth that you need to have your car serviced by a dealership.

By all means use them if you get a deal as part of the sale, but otherwise ask friends and family for a reliable, trustworthy mechanic.

And the cheapest isn’t always the best. Good tradesmen charge more because they can.

Suds up

You can save hundreds a year by washing your car. I know when I’m having a financial crisis I will wash my car, smug in the feeling I have saved myself $70. And learn how to polish your car yourself. A detailer will charge a minimum $200 for the privilege.

Pay it off

Cars lose a lot of their value just through the act of driving them off the lot. Don’t add to that financial loss by dragging out paying it off. Before you buy a car, shop around for a deal that offers the ability to pay the loan off early.

Fuel for thought

Fuel will always be one of your biggest expenses in running a car, but there are several tactics that will save you money.

First is to be a bit crafty about when and where you buy fuel.

Generally, midweek is better. And try to buy at least a week out from school holidays or a public holiday.

Pay attention to petrol stations around you. One near us always puts the prices up a few days later than standard and there’s one on the school run home that’s regularly 4c/L less than others.

It’s also worth considering a Costco membership. For $65 a year you can buy petrol at almost always cheaper than the standard price. Of course, it only works if you are close to a Costco, and we lost out this year because our local station was under reconstruction for months, so it wasn’t worth it.

If you are near a lot of 7-Eleven stores, look into the fuel app.

It allows you to browse the best 7-Eleven fuel price in a 250km radius and then lock it in for up to seven days, regardless of which store you visit. One transaction of up to 150L only.

Another way to save fuel is to ditch any unnecessary weight in your car. If you have been carrying around a bunch of random stuff in the boot for months, chuck it.

MoneyMag estimates for every 50kg you are carrying in your car your fuel mileage goes up by 3 per cent.

You should also make sure your tyres are inflated at the correct pressure. Too squishy and your car must work harder. If you are not sure of the correct pressure, it will be in your car manual.  

Wheel deals

If you know what tyres you want, it is almost always cheaper to buy online. However, there are plenty of shonky deals out there so it pays to do your research.

And unless you have a base mechanical knowledge you will also have to organise having them fitted and the old ones disposed of.

A small world

Downsizing doesn’t just count for houses, you should also consider if your car suits your purpose.

Older Australians may no longer need a wagon with all that boot room. Maybe you just need something to get you out and about a bit.

A smaller car represents considerable savings on petrol prices.

Walk it out

Australians love their cars, but I think if we were all a bit more honest about it, we could use them a bit less, especially if you live in an urban area.

Do you really need to jump into the car to get a few things from the shops? Could you walk? Could you use public transport? Both of those things will save you a surprising amount on mileage each year alone.

You could also consider joining a car share service or even rent your car out to make a bit of money.

Have you changed your habits with the escalating fuel prices? Do you have any money saving tips for running a car? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Are smart cars creating dumb drivers?

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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