You and Your Money
PERSONAL FINANCE: Saving Money On Transportation Costs
Photo: Dollar Savings on Transportation
It seems like we’re always on the go these days. Whether traveling across the country (or the world) or across town, there are ways that you can get more travel out of your transportation dollars.
Undeniably, the airlines are both the fastest and the most expensive way to travel far distances. You may lower the price of a round trip air fare by as much as two-thirds by making certain your trip includes a Saturday evening stay over, and by purchasing the ticket in advance. Many airlines divide up the seats on their flights into price categories. The cheapest ones sell first so it pays to shop early. To make certain you have a cheap fare, even if you use a travel agent, contact all the airlines that fly where you want to go and ask what the lowest fare to your destination is. Be flexible, if possible. Consider using low fare carriers or alternative airports and keep an eye out for fare wars.
Since car rental rates can vary greatly, shop around for the best basic rates. Ask about any additional charges (extra driver, gas, drop-off fees) and special offers, such as free upgrades. Rental car companies offer various insurance and waiver options. Check with your automobile insurance agent and credit card company in advance to avoid duplicating any coverage you may already have.
You can save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a car by selecting a model that combines a low purchase price with low financing, insurance, gasoline, maintenance, and repair costs. Ask your local librarian for new car guides that contain this information. Having selected a model, you can save hundreds of dollars by comparison shopping. Call at least five dealers for price quotes and let each know that you are calling others.
Most car dealerships and their salespeople have quotas and deadlines to meet, often on monthly and quarterly schedules. You’ll probably get a better deal on the last day of the month than on the first day. September can be a great time to buy a current year model because the dealerships want to make room for the coming year’s vehicles. December is also great because it’s the end of the year and, in colder areas at least, car sales are usually in a slump.
Finally, remember there is no “cooling off” period on new car sales. Once you have signed a contract, you are obligated to buy the car.
Before buying any used car you need to compare the seller’s asking price with the average retail price in a “bluebook” or other guide to car prices found at many libraries, banks, and credit unions. If needed, ask for help in deciphering the information. Next, have a mechanic you trust check the car, especially if the car is sold “as is.” You don’t want to be driving away with a cracked head gasket, or something even worse! Consider purchasing a used car from an individual you know and trust. You are more likely to get the car for a lower price and have any problems with it pointed out to you.
Don’t decide to lease a car just because the payments are lower than on a traditional auto loan. The leasing payments may be lower because you don’t own the car at the end of the lease. Leasing a car is very complicated. When shopping, consider the price of the car (known as the capitalized cost), your trade-in allowance, any down payment, monthly payments, various fees (excess mileage, excess “wear and tear,” end-of-lease), and the cost of buying the car at the end of the lease. Keys to Vehicle Leasing: A Consumer Guide, published by the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Trade Commission, is a valuable source of information about auto leasing.
Did you just about die from sticker shock the last time you filled up? You can save hundreds of dollars a year by comparing prices at different stations, pumping gas yourself, and using the lowest-octane called for in your owner’s manual. Pay cash at stations that charge extra for credit cards.
Don’t top off the gas tank. First of all, it’s dangerous! Second, too much gas will just slosh or seep out. Why waste those extra pennies? Tighten up that gas cap. Make sure it’s on securely. Buy a new one if your current cap doesn’t fit snugly. Gas easily evaporates from the tank if it has an escape.
You can save up to $100 a year on gas by keeping your engine tuned and your tires inflated to their proper pressure. Get regular tune-ups and follow through with routine maintenance. A well-tuned engine burns less gas. Underinflated tires waste fuel and wear out the tire tread. Also, check tires regularly for alignment and balance. Remove snow tires in good weather. Deep tread and big tires use more fuel.
Clean out your trunk. Excessive weight in your trunk causes your car to use more fuel. For every extra 250 pounds your engine hauls, the car loses about one mile per gallon in fuel economy. Carry only the basic emergency equipment and items you really need.
Buy a fuel-efficient car. When pricing cars, factor in long-term fuel costs. Keep in mind that, though you may like the wind blowing through your hair, sunroofs add to wind resistance, lowering the mileage per gallon. Also, be smart with the air conditioning. Air conditioning can lower your fuel economy by 10 percent to 20 percent. On the highway, closed windows decrease wind resistance, so run the air conditioner. But in stop-and-go traffic, shutting off the air conditioning and opening the windows can lighten your fuel use.
Consumers lose billions of dollars each year on unneeded or poorly done car repairs. The most important step that you can take to save money on these repairs is to find a skilled, honest mechanic. Before you need repairs, look for a mechanic who is certified and well-established, has done good work for someone you know, and communicates well about repair options and costs. Asking friends, family, and coworkers who they use is probably the best way to find a good mechanic. In addition, preventative maintenance is the operative phrase here. You know the saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Take care of those minor problems before they become major ones!