Family Checkbook: Ideas to keep money from driving away

Family Checkbook: Ideas to keep money from driving away

By Kathy Sweedler

Many years ago, we were a family of five with one old car. Our sons were babies, my husband walked or bused to work and our car costs were low. This summer, we have four cars parked in our driveway!

With gas prices high (and cars pulling in and out of the driveway at all hours), I've been thinking about how to keep down our costs.

Everyone has their "tricks" for saving fuel, and some are more effective than others. According to Consumer Reports studies, here are two ideas that, while they sound good, don't actually save you money on fuel:

— Filling up in the morning when the temperatures are cool does not get you more gas for your money. The temperature of the gas coming out of the fuel nozzle doesn't change significantly.

— Has anyone ever told you that opening your windows while driving on a freeway reduces your gas mileage? Well, not true.

However, using your air conditioner (at 65 mph) reduces your gas mileage by more than 3 miles per gallon.

You can reduce the amount you spend on gas by driving more efficiently. For example:

— Avoid speeding, rapid acceleration and unnecessary braking.

— Also, avoid idling: It uses up gas unnecessarily and creates pollution.

— Use cruise control on the highway.

— When was the last time you really cleaned out the back of your car? Extra weight in your car will reduce your gas mileage.

— Maintaining your car also helps improve gas mileage. Get regular tuneups and keep your tires properly inflated.

— Of course, one of the best ways to save money is to drive less. Plan your errands so that you can do several in one trip. Use your car less by carpooling, using a bus, biking or walking. Biking or walking is a win-win situation: fewer dollars spent, better for the environment and healthy exercise for you!

Managing how you drive can make a significant difference in your gasoline costs. However, the decision to own a vehicle, and which vehicle you choose, makes an even bigger difference in your spending.

It doesn't take any fancy calculations to know that it costs more to maintain and run four cars than one. But just how much does it cost? One way to know is to look back on bills and estimate maintenance and repair, insurance and fuel costs for the past year.

Another way to estimate costs is to visit http://www.fueleconomy.gov. This informative website allows you to compare the cost of gasoline (based on fuel economy) for different vehicles.

For example, it seemed like a good deal to my husband and me to purchase a used 1996 Toyota 4Runner 4WD. And, while we did get it cheap, according to fueleconomy.gov, it will cost us $5,250 more in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle.

In contrast, if we had purchased a Toyota Prius c, it would have saved us $6,500 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle. That's almost $12,000 difference in five years — something to think about.

When purchasing a vehicle, remember that the cost of that vehicle is more than the purchase price and the cost of gas; ownership costs also include depreciation, insurance, maintenance and repair.

A 2012 report from Consumer Reports found that over the first five years of ownership, the median car costs more than $9,100 a year to own. This amount varies quite a bit depending on the vehicle. Much of this cost is due to depreciation.

The magazine states that the average model depreciates about 65 percent over five years. Keep your car for eight years instead of five years, and the median ownership costs drop to $7,800 a year (due to both lower depreciation costs and keeping the car after the loan is paid off).

To compare the cost of owning different vehicles, visit http://www.edmunds.com/tco.html.

The cost of owning, maintaining, and driving a car is high. Before you add a vehicle to your household, do your research and estimate your costs.

Remember: Owning a car costs much more than just the purchase price.

Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the University of Illinois Extension. Contact her at 333-7672 or email sweedler@illinois.edu.

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