Ten Tips to Help You Cut the Cost of Motoring

From escalating fuel prices to congestion charging, toll roads to tax band changes and the ever increasing cost of parking, it seems that owning and running our vehicles now costs us more than ever.
 
In fact, figures recently compiled by the AA show that the average British motorist now pays more than £1,800 annually in car tax, fuel duty, VAT on petrol and other levies — an increase of more than 50 per cent in just over one decade.
 
Fortunately, from reducing our fuel consumption to cutting the cost of our car insurance, there are a variety of ways for the savvy motorists amongst us to cut our motoring costs.
 
  1. Cut the cost of your car insurance
     
    Always shop around for a better deal rather than simply accepting the renewal quote provided by your current insurer. Even if your insurer offered the best deal last time around, it's unlikely they will be the cheapest this time. Research by the AA has shown that shopping around can save consumers over £200 on the average motor insurance premium.
     
    The good news is that comparing multiple quotes won't take as long as you may imagine. In fact, with the emergence of insurance comparison sites it will actually take just a few minutes.
     
    Of all the insurance comparison sites, only gocompare.com is accredited by the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA). What's particularly useful about this site is that not only is it possible to compare quotes from over 70 insurance companies, but there is a five star rating system to highlight those policies that include your 'must have' policy features, such as a courtesy car. What this essentially means is that you are able to buy the cover that best meets your needs, whilst still being able to compare quotes on price. So, to cut your car insurance costs, try gocompare.com.
     
    It's well worth looking at other ways to cut the cost of your car insurance too. Drive safely to build up your no claims bonus and stick within the speed limit to avoid convictions, improve vehicle security, pay your premium yearly rather than monthly and don't modify your car — this will only increase your level of risk whilst adding pounds to your premium.
     
  2. Find the cheapest fuel in your area
     
    Whilst you can't control rising petrol and diesel prices, nor the duty or VAT applied to fuel by the Government, what you can do is locate the cheapest fuel in your area by using the handy petrol price comparison tool at petrolprices.com, which currently has fuel pricing data for 9,687 filling stations. The difference in diesel and petrol prices between filling stations within the same postcode can be surprising. For example, in Warrington postcode WA4 the cheapest price for petrol is 113.9p whilst the highest is 121.9p — a difference of 8p per litre.
     
  3. Only pay for a car when you need one
     
    If you only need to use a car occasionally, then rather than running and maintaining a vehicle of your own it may be worth considering a 'pay-as-you-go' car scheme such as that operated by streetcar or whizzgo. It's an unconventional form of car rental, and as whizzgo claims, "Now you can drive when and where you want, without the hassle of owning a car".
     
  4. Cut your fuel consumption
     
    Fortunately, there's a variety of simple but effective ways to cut your fuel consumption.
     
    As a starting point, empty your boot of any items that you have no real need to be carrying around day after day. Also, remove roof boxes — weight and wind resistance both increase fuel consumption.
     
    Avoid heavy braking and accelerating by anticipating road conditions ahead to maintain a steady speed. This will also tend to keep the traffic moving and benefit everyone through reduced congestion. When you do have to stop, the best policy is to accelerate briskly when moving off from traffic lights and junctions to avoid holding up other traffic and to maximize the number of cars getting through on green. It has been shown that it is more economical to get into top gear as quickly as possible than to accelerate slowly through the gears.
     
    Dirty air filters can drastically reduce your fuel economy. They are inexpensive to change if you buy and fit them yourself — following the guidelines in your handbook of course.
     
    Check your tyres to ensure they are set to the optimum pressure. Soft tyres can add up to 2% to your fuel bills.
     
    Only use your air conditioning when it's a necessity as it does in fact have a direct impact on fuel consumption. On short journeys it's more cost-effective to open your windows and air vents instead, but remember that as soon as you get above 35mph open windows and sunroofs will create drag and increase consumption — not to mention making a dreadful noise in many modern cars!
     
    Use speed intelligently. It is quite true that cruising at higher speeds will use more fuel — What Car? recently suggested that a driver travelling at 90mph on a level road will spend an extra £1.20 on fuel every 8 minutes over one doing 70mph. However, motorways usually undulate so speed can be gained on downhill stretches and lost on inclines — the key is to avoid accelerating uphill unless doing so will obstruct traffic behind. Trying to drive at less than 70 on a busy motorway can be a false economy, as trucks are limited to 56mph and it is easy to get baulked behind them, especially on hills, and end up having to accelerate hard to overtake. Also, it is important to accelerate up to motorway speeds on slip roads as joining the motorway at lower speeds is dangerous because it causes traffic to brake and/or change lane.
     
    Use the flexibility of the car to banish the phrase "I'll just pop home first". Plan to do more than one thing every time you take your car out — go shopping on the way home from work, or visit friends on the way to pick the kids up. Not only will you save more mileage than you think, but you will start the car from cold less often, and a cold start uses more fuel and causes more wear to the engine.
     
    Make your journeys shorter by taking a more direct route. Road signs can often direct you via main roads which can be a surprising amount further than a cross country route. Check out your regular trips on a map or set your trip meter before trying different routes.
     
    Shop online for big purchases like domestic appliances — don't trail round all the big electrical retailers that are scattered all over town. You can have the item delivered, or make one trip to collect it, once you have decided what and where to buy.
     
    Don't be tempted to turn your engine off and coast downhill. This may lay you open to a charge of not being in proper control of the vehicle, and is fraught with safety hazards — if you turn the key all the way off, the steering will lock. Even if you run with the ignition on, the power assistance to brakes and steering will work initially but will then fail without warning, leading to a massive increase in steering and braking effort which may mean you cannot control the vehicle. If you have a petrol car with a catalyst, restarting the car by letting the clutch up will cause unburnt fuel to damage the catalyst possibly leading to MoT failure and considerable expense.
     
  5. Car share on your daily commute
     
    Perhaps you have a work colleague driving the same route to work, or a friend who passes your workplace as they drive to their own? If not, don't despair — there are others out there in a similar position, so if you're happy to share with a stranger look for fellow car sharers at liftshare.org. Londoners can also use Londonliftshare.com.
     
    If you work longer, more flexible hours and it's hard to share, ask your boss if you can work from home one day a week.
     
  6. Choose your vehicle carefully
     
    If you're in the market for a new car, whether it's brand new or used, there's far more to consider than just the retail price.
     
    Firstly, the tax you pay on your car is now based on the model's carbon dioxide emissions. The higher these are, the more tax you'll pay. Owners of cars that emit less than 100g per km of CO2 and fit into vehicle excise duty (VED) band A are not charged any road tax. By contrast, if you drive a vehicle that emits more than 255g per km you will be charged £400.
     
    Unsurprisingly, cars with low insurance groups are generally cheaper to insure than those with higher insurance groups as typically they cost less to repair and replace.
     
    There's the issue of fuel consumption too. Petrol and diesel engines both have advantages and disadvantages and whilst diesel engines inherently use less fuel than petrol cars, diesel is currently significantly more expensive at the pump than petrol. Remember that cars with smaller engines typically use less fuel than those with larger engines and, in general, driving an automatic car burns more fuel than driving a manual car. However, new technology has meant that the gap is now narrowing.
     
    Fuel consumption will also be around 4% higher for a four wheel drive car than for a two-wheel drive vehicle with the same body style. If you compare a four-wheel drive with the most economical vehicle that can carry the same load, the fuel consumption could be up to 14% higher for the former than for the latter.
     
    Also, always research parts and servicing costs for any manufacturer or model you're interested in, and if buying a brand new car be very aware of the rate of depreciation over one to three years of ownership.
     
  7. Pay less for parking
     
    According to a survey by Direct Line last year, parking costs in Britain have risen by 40 per cent since 2000. The average cost of leaving a car for two hours has risen from 86p to £1.21 nationally and with new parking enforcement laws in place, using on-street parking is now laden with added risks.
     
    Avoid paying through the nose in town centre car parks by parking in a side street on your route into town and walk the last half mile. Complain to the council if there are unnecessary restrictions on parking. You'll be surprised how little extra time this takes when you take account of driving round the car park, paying and struggling with lifts and stairs. And you won't just save money on parking, you will save fuel too.
     
    If no such parking is available, using a park and ride scheme can be more cost effective than paying to park in a city centre car park and there are often dedicated bus lanes meaning that you get to avoid the queues and congestion.
    If park and ride isn't your style, then why not compare the cost of various parking spots around the country on websites such as YourParkingSpace.
     
  8. Save on parts and servicing
     
    Around £10 billion was spent on servicing and repairing cars in the UK last year, according to Warranty Direct — but remember that prices vary greatly from garage to garage, so it is well worth shopping around for different quotes before the work is carried out. Use labourrates.co.uk to research the labour charges in your area.
     
  9. Shop around for motoring consumables
     
    Every motorist buys screen wash and we've probably all bought other motoring consumables such as car shampoo, air fresheners, replacement windscreen wipers and even headlight or brake light bulbs.
    Rather than stocking up at your local petrol station, shop around. Halfords is an obvious choice, but your local motor factors may be cheaper and supermarkets tend to stock a decent range of motoring goods at very competitive prices.
    For larger or more expensive items — such as floor mats, seat covers, dog grates and even sound systems — always compare prices and shop around online.
     
  10. Use your Tesco Clubcard vouchers
     
    Use your Tesco Clubcard vouchers to cut the cost of servicing, MOT testing, repairs and maintenance at Nationwide Autocentres, the award-winning 'Repairer of the Year 2003, 2004 and 2006'.

 
Disclaimer: Please note that any prices, rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.
Sources: The AA, The RAC, Direct Line, Warranty Direct, MSN, The Telegraph.

 

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