Fall 2009 Auto Guide
A red mustang with a silver car in the background with pink, purple orange and yellow tints
A tightwad's 10 tips to trim car costs

6. Do some of your own maintenance. Rebuilding an engine or changing out a transmission can be a serious job requiring lots of knowledge and experience, but checking tire pressure and fluid levels isn't very difficult. Performing those basic maintenance duties and having the ability to change a flat or jump your own vehicle in times of emergency can dramatically cut down on maintenance expenses. While the average cost of an oil change at a shop can run anywhere from $30 to $100, you can buy the oil and filter at an auto parts store for $10 to $25. Learning how to change your own oil and keep fluid levels up can save you hundreds of dollars each year.

7. Do your homework before you visit a dealer. The availability of information on the Web has brought a tremendous amount of transparency into the business of buying and selling vehicles. Automotive Web sites such as Edmunds.com, KBB.com and NADA.com can help consumers understand whether they're getting a good deal or not when they wrangle with a salesman. When you're ready to sit down with a dealer, you should already be anticipating the numbers they'll be working with.

8. Reduce fuel consumption. Driving a gas guzzler with a lead foot is guaranteed to bring some hefty fuel costs into your life. You can dramatically reduce your gas consumption simply by maintaining your vehicle and driving in a sensible manner. According to "hypermiling," using driving techniques that maximize fuel economy, expert Wayne Gerdes of CleanMPG.com, drivers can increase their fuel efficiency 15 to 20 percent simply by checking their tire pressure and mildly altering their driving habits. Other tips include reducing your speed, avoiding stop-and-go traffic and consolidating trips and errands.

9. Shop around for insurance rates. Even after you've reassessed your insurance coverage, shopping around for new rates once every year or two can save money in premiums. In some states there are upward of 200 auto insurance companies in operation and each can have different premiums depending on the vehicle you drive, the coverage you need and your driving record. The changing nature of the insurers and their appetite for risk also means that certain companies may offer different rates at different times.

10. Don't let gimmicks cloud your judgment. Dealerships have long used gimmicks such as free cruises and "gas for a year" giveaways to lure people onto their lots or into a new car. Before you jump at that opportunity, calculate exactly how much that really means to you, based on the number of miles you drive and the cost of gas in your area. And then explore what other rebates, incentives or low prices you may have to pass up in order to get that $500 or $600 worth of gas. The perception of a freebie can cloud the fact that you might be able to get a better deal on a vehicle elsewhere. Manufacturers also use gimmicks such as warming cup holders, back-up cameras and storage compartments to differentiate their vehicles from the competition. While there may be nothing wrong with these accessories, they can often convince buyers to spend an extra thousand dollars for a product that is only worth a hundred. Staying clear of the hype and buying your vehicle based on its price and reliability can save you more money in the end.

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