Ten ways to cut your motoring costs
Keeping your car in decent condition does not need to cost a fortune!
Cars aren't cheap to run. At lovemoney.com, we all know the importance of shopping around for insurance and finance. But here, I'm going to look at cutting the cost of operating and maintaining a car.
1. Avoid main dealers
There's no two ways about it: main dealers are expensive. The labour rate per hour is higher than your local family-owned independent garage, and main dealers are far more likely to want to fit car manufacturers' own original parts, rather than generic equivalents. While it still probably makes sense to use a main dealer inside the warranty period, changes in European law (the so-called 'Block Exemption' regulations) mean that vehicle owners are much freer to get their vehicles maintained where they like.
And for many people, this will be a local garage that they know and trust -- and which offers cheaper labour rates, and a choice of spare parts to suit every budget. So if you don't know of such a garage locally, ask around for recommendations from satisfied customers.
2. Buy your own parts
When I take one of our family's cars to be serviced or repaired -- at a local garage I've used for years, naturally -- I often take along the oils, filters and other required parts that will be needed. It's cheaper than using the garage's own parts (which of course include their profit margin), and I can shop around and compare prices. If it sounds time-consuming, it isn't: let's face it, there's ample time to stock up on parts for a 12,000 mile service that you know you're going to need in another two months or so.
Halfords carry many parts in stock, and have handy shelf-edge 'part finders' that list the correct oil filter or whatever for your specific vehicle. The prices aren't bad, either. Back street motor factors are another good bet. And for some makes of vehicle -- Land Rovers, for example -- the specialist magazines carry adverts from companies supplying service 'kits', containing all the standard parts required for the service in question.
3. All oils are not the same!
Likewise, it can pay to take along the oil of your choice for the vehicle service, rather than using the garage's own oil. But which oil? Here's what you need to know, in a nutshell. Briefly, oils fall into three types: mineral (the cheapest), semi-synthetic (dearer) and full-synthetic (even dearer). Taking Castrol as an example, that's Castrol GTX, Castrol Magnatec, and Castrol Edge.
Because they are 'slipperier', semi-synthetic and synthetic oils result in less engine wear, and lower fuel consumption. Saving money on oil by selecting a mineral oil, therefore, could cost you more later in terms of higher fuel consumption and engine wear.
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Oil also comes in various grades of viscosity (or 'thickness'). Again, thicker oils are cheaper (and are recommended for older, higher mileage engines), but result in higher fuel consumption. Finally, oils also have additives designed to further improve performance, or reduce engine wear -- again, more expensive oils usually have more additives than cheaper oils.
So what does it all boil down to? In short, understanding oils allows you to tailor the oil you use to the driving you do, the amount of time you want to keep the car for, and your budget.
Does it work? Well, our elderly Ford Escort has done 195,000 miles -- a lot of them on Castrol's semi-synthetic Magnatec oils or their equivalent. The oil costs a few pounds more than a 'cheap' oil, certainly -- but on the other hand I'm still running the car! (For those interested in learning more about choosing an oil, see here for a wealth of further information.)
4.... and neither are tyres
As with oil, there's a significant element of 'you get what you pay for' with tyres: in general, the more expensive the tyre, the higher the performance -- and the longer it will last. That seemingly impenetrable coding on the side of the tyres carries a wealth of information about its construction, its maximum speed, and the load it's designed to carry. Another figure provides a 'wear' indication, showing how the tyre performed on a standard test. So talk to your supplier, and match the tyre you buy to the driving you do.
Kwik-Fit's website has wealth of information on tyres, ranging from how to interpret the writing on the side of the tyre, to how to look after tyres, and the importance of inflating them to the correct pressure for the sort of driving you're doing.
Usefully, too, when it comes to buying new tyres, the Kwik-Fit site has a handy 'price finder' feature: simply type your vehicle registration number in here, and it will list a range of applicable tyres (and prices), including details of any special offers. For the elderly Ford Escort we use as a runabout, it produced tyres from ten manufacturers, ranging in price from £30 to £62 each.
5. Shop around for motoring 'consumables'
Every motorist buys things like screen wash, replacement windscreen wipers and light bulbs. In general, petrol stations aren't cheap places to buy these: instead, shop at places like Halfords, or back street motor factors (which are even cheaper), or supermarkets (cheaper still).
6. Use your Tesco Clubcard points
And while shopping at Tesco, of course, you're also earning (or you should be!) Tesco's Clubcard points. But did you know you can use your Tesco Clubcard points to cut the cost of motoring?
Every £5 in Clubcard vouchers, for example, gets you £20 knocked-off your bill at Nationwide Autocentres, a specialist in vehicle servicing, MOT testing, mechanical repairs and maintenance for almost every make and model of car. Be aware that from December that will fall down to £15 for every £5 in vouchers.
If you really want to boost your Clubcard collection, it is also a good idea to put all of your spending on the brilliant Tesco Clubcard credit card, which currently offers a market-leading 13 months of 0% interest on purchases.
7. Buy in bulk
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Another oil-related tip: for topping up oil between services, don't buy the oil in litre bottles on the petrol station forecourt, but top-up at home from a 4-litre, 4.55-litre or 5-litre container -- per litre, it's an awful lot less expensive. At our local Morrison's petrol station, for example, 4 litres of Castrol Magnatec 10w/40 costs £16.99, as opposed to £5.99 bought in 1 litre bottles -- a saving of £6.97 over the four litres.
8. Tackle some jobs yourself.
If you can replace a windscreen wiper, you can probably carry out quite lot of basic servicing and repair work on a car. Haynes manuals like these talk you through the basics, clearly 'grade' jobs according to difficulty and level of expertise, and carry clear illustrations. Haynes say that their manuals pay for themselves after saving you just half an hour of a mechanic's time -- a claim I believe to be justified.
9. Carry a few basic tools and spares in your car
If a fuse blows, you could be in trouble -- and on a wet and windy night, for example, if the fuse blows on your windscreen wipers, the cheapest option is likely to be waiting for a recovery or roadside breakdown service like the AA or RAC or Green Flag to come and sort it out.
But not if you carry a pack of fuses, and know where the fuse box is. A similar point can be made for light bulbs -- quite apart from the fact that it's illegal to drive with defective bulbs. Halfords sell vehicle-specific kits of bulbs, but assembling your own kits from the list of bulbs in the Haynes manual or vehicle owner's guide isn't difficult -- and should work out cheaper.
10. Use the Internet!
If you have an issue with your car you can always try picking the brains of your fellow readers in our Q&A section. However, it's unlikely they will know the foibles and weaknesses of every vehicle model on the roads.
So if your car starts playing up, it's worth checking to see if there's an online forum devoted to it. A garage (even a main dealer, as I know to my cost) can waste a lot of time looking for a hard-to-track-down fault -- online, you're likely to find people who've had first hand experience of something similar, and who can point you at the likely cause.
If your model doesn't have a specific forum, here's an Internet newsgroup devoted to UK-specific vehicle maintenance discussions -- again, you're likely to find plenty of knowledgeable people there.
This is a lovemoney.com classic article, originally published in July 2007 and updated