Reducing the Cost of Car Ownership and Leasing

Finding Smart Ways to Reduce the Cost of Car Ownership

Transportation costs are usually the second biggest expense in a household budget after housing. And while these costs are necessities because you need to get around, there are steps you can take to reduce them.

This is how transportation costs break down in the average American budget:

  • 42% gets spent on the vehicle for auto loan payments and
  • 21% gets spent on gas, oil and maintenance
  • The other 37% is spent on everything else, such as insurance

If you want minimize transportation costs in your budget, we recommend following these steps…

Step 1: Consider where you live

Finding the cheapest transportation depends heavily on where you live. The cost of car ownership in cities like New York City are astronomical compared to the cost of using public transit. But if you live in a suburb or rural area in the flyover states, then public transit may be either too inconvenient or too expensive.

This is why we recommend that drivers try going carless for at least one month to evaluate the cost savings.

  1. Walk or ride a bike whenever it’s reasonable to do so
  2. Take the bus or consider carpools to get to work
  3. Use ride sharing or taxis when you need a trunk, such as when you shop for groceries

This may sound expensive. But remember, eliminating your car will get rid of your car payment, car insurance payment, fuel and maintenance costs, as well as money used for parking and tolls. Total up the expenses for one month of driving, then compare it to what you pay to get around without a car.

Step 2: Never be satisfied with your payments, even if you’re not financially stressed

People often get complacent with fixed costs in their budgets. You get used to paying a certain amount, so as long as you’re not struggling you don’t consider reducing costs. But this means you could be shelling out more money than necessary every month. So, you should never be satisfied with your payments – you should always try to aim to reduce payments, when possible.

  1. If you still have a few years left on your auto loan, consider refinancing to see if you can get a lower interest rate. Lower rates mean lower payments. This is particularly good advice if your credit score has improved since you took out the loan.
  2. See about making extra payments or larger payments. Making higher payments or an extra payment means that you pay off your loan faster. Just make sure your loan doesn’t have early repayment or prepayment penalty fees. If it does, then you should stick to the schedule.
  3. Shop around for auto insurance once per year. Get quotes from three different companies, in addition to your current provider.
  4. Call your agent anytime you think there’s an opportunity for a discount. Auto insurers offer discounts for a range of events and situations that you may not think of, including:
    1. Getting married
    2. Taking drivers under age 25 off your policy as your children gain financial independence
    3. Driving a “low mileage” amount each year
    4. Installing a security system on the vehicle
    5. Safe driving bonuses

Step 3: Be frugal behind the wheel

Always look for ways to avoid added costs when you’re on the road, including:

  1. Tolls
  2. Meter parking
  3. Paid parking lots

If you regularly use toll roads, consider your route carefully and see if there’s an alternate route you can take. Just make sure you’re not wasting gas to go out of your way. Avoid metered parking, even if you have to do some extra walking to get to your destination.

And consider using public transportation or ride sharing to avoid parking lot fees. This is particularly important for expensive lots, such as long-term airport parking, sporting events, and concerts. If you have to pay to park, getting dropped off may be the better option.

Step 4: Maintain your vehicle

It might seem like skipping routine maintenance can save you money, but it doesn’t. In fact, you’re more likely to face expensive car repairs and incur other expenses, such as towing, when your car breaks down. Even gas mileage is negatively affected by skipping maintenance. So, make sure to follow all of the recommended manufacturer recommendations for routine maintenance on your vehicle.

You should also have an emergency fund in case you need car repairs. Each month, set aside $20 or whatever you can afford to save for a vehicle emergency fund. Then, when you pay off the loan, up your emergency savings with what you were paying on the car payment. Since manufacturer warranties tend to expire around the time you pay off the loan, this gives you a cushion of cash to use if something expensive breaks down. It also lets you skip the unnecessary cost of an extended warranty.

And know when to say when on car repairs. Getting rid of a vehicle because of one expensive repair, such as a new transmission, may not be as cost effective as you think. But if you’re constantly shelling out money on repairs, then it may be time for a trade-in.

Step 5: Finance your next vehicle wisely

If you live in one of the many places where it’s just not feasible to go without a vehicle, then eventually you’re going to need a new car. When you do, make sure you’re getting the best deal for your financial situation.

  1. Make the largest down payment possible, since this will reduce your total costs and monthly costs.
  2. Avoid loans with early repayment or prepayment penalty fees. If you come into extra cash, you want to be able to pay off your loan without penalties.
  3. Get prequalified for an auto loan at your bank or credit union before you hit the dealership. This lets you know how much car you can afford and gives you something to compare dealership offers against.
  4. Evaluate the total cost of dealership offers carefully. No money down or 0% APR for a few months may sound great, but often the total cost of these attractive dealership offers is higher.
  5. Don’t just assume that leasing is less expensive. Leasing a car can be a good value if you trade in cars every few years. Just be aware that extra fees can pile up quickly if you drive too much or don’t maintain the vehicle.