THE BIG THINGS: HIDDEN COSTS THAT WILL MAKE THINGS WORSE
It might seem like trading in Ye Olde Gas Guzzler for a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle is a good idea, but there is more to it than miles per gallon. Even if you double your gas mileage, you could still end up paying more over the new vehicle’s lifetime. This should not stop you from looking at newer vehicles, though. Instead, consider these factors before you sign the paperwork:
-Insurance. If you finance a new vehicle, your car insurance rates will probably increase. The make and model of the new vehicle also affect your rates. Safer cars will usually cost less to insure than those more prone to accidents and serious damage. For example: many sedans will be cheaper than sport-utility vehicles. If your insurance bill will skyrocket when you change cars, you should think twice before you do it. It might be cheaper – and easier – to simply keep adding gas to your current fuel-sucker.
-Maintenance. You might think that your twenty-year-old car has had it, but think again. It will inevitably be easier and cheaper to maintain and repair than most newer cars. This is because your car has less computer-controlled components, therefore requiring less technical experience to diagnose and repair. Also: sometimes it is nice to know that you are capable of putting a new battery into your old care, whereas a newer model might require a LOT more effort.
-Personal comfort and safety. There really is not much point in buying a car with great gas mileage if you have to fold yourself into the driver’s seat every morning; nor is there any advantage in buying a tiny sardine can that begs to be crunched into something the size of your fingernail if you are hit.
You should always take your comfort and safety into mind before you make any buying decision. If possible, check the make and model against government crash-test ratings so that you will feel safer behind the wheel. Otherwise, you might mistakenly believe that all of the biggest vehicles on the road are inherently safer than smaller ones.
YOU CAN KEEP YOUR CURRENT VEHICLE AND SAVE GAS MONEY
Even if you can't – or won't – buy a newer car, there is still plenty of hope for your pocketbook: a few simple things that you can do to your current ride can save money over the next week, month, or year. Most of these solutions are inexpensive and easy, so there is no good reason to avoid doing them.
The first thing that you can do is to perform routine maintenance on your vehicle so that it will perform at its very best. There are several fast and easy things that you can do today that will improve gas mileage, save money on repair bills, and extend the life expectancy of your car.
-Check your tire pressure. All four tires should be inflated to the recommended pressure. This can be checked with any tire-pressure gauge. Some are as cheap as one dollar and can be found anywhere from gas stations to discount-department stores. If you aren't sure of how much air to put into the tires, check for the recommended numbers – they're on the sides of each tire.
Over- or under-inflating the tires decrease gas mileage because your entire car is working harder to make up for the problem. This is more serious when one tire is lower or higher than the others by more than a few pounds: you suck down fuel and cause uneven tread wear, which can dramatically lower your tire’s life expectancy.
-Change your air filter. This is right under the hood, usually beneath a plastic cover. It is often very easy to reach and only takes a couple of moments to change. The replacement, depending on your make and model, can cost as little as ten dollars. The cleaner this filter, the better the air quality, which leads to better engine performance.
Check with your automotive parts dealer or your owner’s manual to determine how many miles you should go between filter changes. Depending on driving and road conditions, you might have to replace it more often than recommended. Even if this is true for your car, the filters are cheaper than all the fuel you are wasting.
-Change your fuel filter. This one can be tricky depending on your make or model. Some filters are in the vehicle’s gas tank; others are under the hood. Your owner’s manual should tell you when this part should be checked. If not, consult the dealership.
-Tune up your engine. This can be done in an hour or so, or you can let a professional do it. Either way, a full tune-up will help restore your car’s engine to its optimum performance expectations. It also tends to stop sluggish starts or random stall-outs.
-Clean your fuel-injection or carburetor system. Consult your owner’s manual for the best course of action against the deposits and clogs that inevitably build up as you drive your vehicle. The manual, or a quick phone call to the dealership, will give you information on what type of cleaner to use and how often you should repeat the process. Most cars use additives that can be found at any parts house or discount-department store.
-Keep up with oil changes and any other engine maintenance recommended in your owner’s manual. Taking good care of the engine will extend its life and ensure that it continues performing at its very best, thus saving you money and the hassle of waiting for it to come out of the shop.
All of these might seem overwhelming, but do not think that you must do all of them right away. They can be staggered into separate days or even weeks, especially if you do not have an abundance of free time or money. Even so, you should try to cover all of these things as quickly as possible. Stretching it out over the course of, say, a decade will not help your vehicle much, if at all.
The next thing that you should work on is how you drive. Believe it or not, driving habits can affect gas mileage in big ways.
-Avoid start-and-stop driving if possible. Idling at traffic lights, pulling away at green lights, and other frequent changes in speed only add to the amount of work your vehicle has to do. If you can take highways or freeways, consider using them. If not, try alternative routes that don't include stop signs or traffic lights. At the same time, you should not try to go eighty miles an hour in an attempt to save fuel. When you increase your speed, your car must work harder – as much as four times per mile.
-Use cruise control. Maintaining your speed helps regulate fuel consumption. Also: when you're tempted to gas it to pass a driver going only one or two miles per hour slower than you are traveling, try to resist that urge. It requires a little more patience, but this will help save money.
-Pickup-truck drivers: lower your tailgate or install webbing. This makes the truck more aerodynamic, which means less resistance. If you must drive with the tailgate up, consider replacing the solid, factory version with open bars or some other design that allows more air flow.
-Drive with your windows up. This might require using air conditioning, but many newer cars are much more fuel efficient in AC mode than their older counterparts.
Taking good care of your car through routine maintenance and good driving habits will provide you with years of dependable service. This in itself is reward enough, but add increased gas mileage to the list of benefits and you will find that there is nothing to do but put that little bit of extra time and effort into your car.