Family packing car for a trip

Licensing. Insurance. Oil changes. Tires. Dead batteries. Brakes. Fuel. If buying a car is a big bill, just owning one can nickel and dime your budget to death. Short of parking your car, here are some simple ways to cut the cost of operating any vehicle. Try these tips — most of which have the dual benefit of saving wear and tear on your vehicle while lowering automotive expenses — and stop blowing money out your tailpipe.

Fuel mileage

Slow down. According to the Energy Department, a vehicle's fuel efficiency begins to drop rapidly as speed increases over 50 mph. On average, each 5 mph over 50 is the equivalent of paying 23 cents more for each gallon of fuel. On the highway, driving the speed limit instead of "10 over" can save 10 to 15 percent on fuel. Use your cruise control to maintain that steady speed, which also will increase efficiency.

Plan your trips. Try to combine your daily errands, or roll those errands and your commute into one trip. Then come up with the most efficient route. Think ahead to avoid traffic that may hurt your fuel economy and plan a route that avoids left turns. Traffic studies by the delivery service UPS found that when its trucks were routed to avoid left turns, they saved time and fuel, simply because they were not waiting for traffic to make that left turn and wasting fuel in the process.

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Lighten your load. Driving around with golf clubs, a heavy tool box and the other junk we keep in the trunk can hurt fuel economy, especially on smaller, lighter cars. Removing 100 pounds of unnecessary weight can improve fuel economy by 2 percent, according to the Energy Department. If you use a roof rack for hauling bikes, kayaks and other gear, take it off between adventure trips to improve your vehicle's aerodynamics.


Increase your deductible. If your collision deductible is only $250, raising it to $500 or $1,000 could lower the premium for that portion of your insurance by 15 to 40 percent. According to insurance statistics, an average driver makes a collision claim only once every 11 years, and reports a total loss only once every 50 years, so it's likely you'll come out ahead. If you are driving an older car with minimal value, consider dropping collision coverage altogether, especially if you don't mind driving around with a new dent in your old beater.

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Pay your entire premium. Most insurance companies charge a fee — often as high as $10 — for paying an auto insurance premium in monthly installments. If the policy is for six months or a year, pay the entire amount upfront. If you cancel the policy later, the insurance company will refund the unused portion.

Ask about discounts.Make sure you are getting all the discounts available from your insurer. Many offer a discount for insuring multiple vehicles, for those who also buy homeowners or other insurance policies, for low-mileage drivers and for those who complete driver-training courses.

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No tickets.The fine for a couple of speeding tickets can be less than the increase in insurance premiums you'll pay for years once they show up on your record, especially if you are a younger driver or if the infractions are of the "excessive speed" variety. Two or more moving violations in a year can bump you into a high-risk category and double the premium. A single violation for driving while intoxicated can land you in the high-risk pool for years.