25 ways to cut your car costs

Reader's Digest Editors 7 June 2021

Are you looking to save money on your car? Look no further as we have compiled 25 ways to cut costs 

Car rental

Two can play the car rental game! Just make sure you know the ins and outs of renting a car, and you’ll drive away a winner. 

Take control of rental insurance. Check the fine print on your insurance and credit card policies before renting a car. Most insurance policies offer liability coverage, so you don’t need to buy it at the rental counter—and your policy might even offer rental-car coverage.

Don’t pay for gas before you rent the car. Don’t prepay for gas; the rental car company will charge you for a full tank, even if you use less. Just replace what you used and fill up at a local gas station.

Skip the airport. Taxes and fees can add about 10 percent to the base price of your car rental when you pick up your car at the airport. Take a free shuttle to a nearby hotel and rent your car there. 

Be clear on add-on costs. Rental car companies vary greatly in basic rates, as well as in additional charges that can sneak up on you if you don’t read the fine print. Before you hand over your credit card, find out if you’ll have to pay for an additional driver, a drop-off fee, gas, and more.

Thumbs down on the upgrade. An upgrade to a larger, more luxurious model than what you reserved may seem like a benefit . . . until you figure out your fuel costs! Stick with a compact or midsized car, and when the big fancy boat is offered, politely decline.

Insurance

Turn buying car insurance into a game that you always win by seeing how much you can save in the process. How much money can you keep in your pocket with these tips?

Improve your credit, improve your rates—a lot. Have you recently improved your credit score? If so, you’ll likely get a better deal on your car insurance policy. Make sure to tell your insurance carrier about your improvement; insurers use it to price your policy and will reward you for your good standing.

Take extra drivers off your policy. If you’re the only one driving your car, make sure your insurance policy reflects that fact. Don’t pay to insure children who no longer live at home or a spouse who never drives your car. Keep the number of drivers to a minimum, and you’ll pay less.

Ask for safety discounts. Insurance companies will reward you for buying a car with safety features. Does your car have something as simple as daytime running lights? Ask if your insurer will lower your rate. Shop around for the insurer that matches discounts to your car’s safety features. Lower your mileage and lower your cost. Let your insurer know that you’re not racking up the miles, and you might rack up the savings. Tell your insurance company how many miles you drive a day to work, to school, and so on. Many insurers discount their rates for drivers who clock under a certain number of miles per year–say, 7,500––and for those who carpool to work.

Use your profession to your advantage. Different insurers offer discounts for people in different professions—like teachers and engineers, who tend statistically to get into fewer accidents—so shop around and ask insurers if your occupation qualifies for a lower rate.

Gas

Does the idea of filling your gas tank make you weak in the wallet? Try these simple tips to save every time you head to the pump, and let your bucks breathe easy. Fill ’er up in the middle of the week. Gas prices are higher on days when most people run their errands and go on car trips—that’s usually the weekend. What to do? Fill up your vehicle in the middle of the week, when prices are usually lower. (Bonus hint: To find the lowest gas price in your neighborhood, go online to gaspricewatch.com and enter your zip code.)

Don’t “top off” your tank. Those little squirts of gas you try to add to your tank at the end of a filling often end up staying in the hose. Over time, that means you’ve actually given away gas to the next user of your pump! Park it where the sun doesn’t shine. Every time you park in the sun, some of the gas in your tank is lost to evaporation. The savvy driver will find a shady spot to park, even in winter. Also be aware that the lighter the color of a car, the less gas will evaporate from the tank.

Get more gas for the same price. Fill your car with gas in the morning or late evening, not in the heat of the day, to make your dollars (and your car) go further. Why? Gasoline becomes denser in cool temperatures—and the denser the gas, the greater the quantity of each gallon measured by the pump.

Drive, don’t idle. You may want to warm up your car by letting it idle, but you’re not doing your car—or your wallet—any favors. Your car’s engine warms up faster when you drive; idling wastes time and about a quart of gas every 15 minutes.

Maintenance

What’s the best way to save money on your car? Keep it in tip-top shape so it lasts longer. Here are ways to keep the maintenance up while keeping costs down. 

Tighten that cap. Make sure your gas cap is in perfect shape next time you visit your repair shop. Close to 20 percent of cars have damaged or loose gas caps—resulting in almost 150 million gallons of gas being vaporized annually. Loose gas caps will often set off your engine light, costing you even more at the mechanic.

Compare repairs. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when comparing repair estimates. Some repair shops use new parts, while others use rebuilt ones. The rebuilt parts may be cheaper in the short term but may cost you more down the road. 

Ask questions (nicely). Was your warranty claim rejected? Ask your dealer if a technical service bulletin (TSB) has been issued about your particular problem. If so, the manufacturer may extend repairs beyond the warranty period, and your dealer may fix your problem for a reduced price or even for free. 

Keep good records. Record every repair ever made to your car in alogbook, and keep the corresponding maintenance receipts in an envelope. This way you’ll know if a suggested repair doesn’t make sense—Didn’t I just replace the back tires last year? You’ll know what work was done, who did it, and when. Your logbook will also help you sell your car when it’s time.

Respect your dealer, but follow the factory’s advice. Your dealer and your car’s manufacturer likely have different maintenance schedules for your wheels. Use the manufacturer’s schedule (unless your car has serious problems or is high on mileage). The dealer wants you to come in more often, but today’s cars don’t need the tune-ups at the rate yesterday’s cars did.

Buying a car

If you did your homework in school, you probably also did well on your tests. And if you do your homework before buying a car, you’ll probably do well on the price. Here are easy ways to save money at the dealer.

Time it right. To get the best deals, shop at the end of the model year (July and August are best) when dealers are turning over their inventory and at the end of the calendar year (shoppers are generally buying gifts for the holidays, not cars). For the best possible bargain, shop on a weekday at the end of the month when salespeople need to make sales to hit their quotas.

Price the whole enchilada. Don’t forget that owning a car means paying for the car—and the insurance and the gas and the repairs and the maintenance. Figure out what everything will cost you before you buy. Keep in mind, for example, that you’ll pay a premium to insure a car that thieves target. Conversely, you may be eligible for a sizable tax rebate if you buy a hybrid.

Compare models as well as prices. Don’t fixate so much on the cost of the car that you lose sight of the kind of car you want to buy. Getting a good price on a bad car isn’t saving you money in either the short- or the long-term. Start your negotiation from the right place. Research the invoice price (check out kbb.com and other car pricing Web sites for information), and negotiate up from that number, not down from the sticker price.

Beware of extended warranties. Don’t buy an extended warranty on your new car. Despite the dealer’s sales pitch, many of these warranties have very limited coverage and aren’t worth the money.

Read more: Interview: Sigourney Weaver

Read more: What to do if you misgender a co-worker

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter