How to drive down the cost of owning a car

Worried that your set of wheels could make a big dent in your wallet? Here’s some tips to help you save on running costs

Driving a car

Many motorists may have splashed out on a new car in September when the new 70-plates were released.

But the expenses associated with owning and running a car don’t stop once you’ve made your purchase.

In addition to the initial outlay, car owners need to think about a host of other costs, including petrol, insurance, MOT and maintenance, road tax and parking.

The good news is, no matter whether you’ve just bought a new motor – or have had your reliable run-around for some time – there are plenty of simple steps you can take to keep ongoing costs under control.

Petrol

The cost of petrol fell in the early part of the Coronavirus pandemic due to falling worldwide demand for fuel.

However, figures from the RAC show petrol prices are rising again as lockdown eases. The cost of diesel has also gone up.

While prices don’t seem to be shooting back up to pre-pandemic levels, fuel costs remain a burden for many drivers.

Tips to beat the cost:

  • Log onto our Fuel Cost Calculator to compare petrol prices locally – and see how far it makes sense to drive for cheaper fuel.
  • Head to the supermarkets to cash in on some of the lowest prices. See if you can make further savings by signing up to supermarket loyalty schemes.
  • Pay for your petrol with a cashback credit card to earn money back as you spend. To compare cashback card deals, head here.
  • Look for fuel discount vouchers.
  • Make sure your tyres are at the correct pressure. Drive more economically. Accelerate smoothly and don’t brake unnecessarily. Don’t stay in a low gear longer than you need to.
  • Lighten the load by removing the roof rack, and clearing out your boot.
  • Keep your use of air con to a minimum.

Insurance

Generally speaking, one of the biggest expenses as a motorist is car insurance.

That said, data from MoneySuperMarket shows average car insurance premiums fell by £28 during the first six months of 2020 – putting the typical cost of an annual premium at £475.

Given that the Covid-19 lockdown was in full swing during April, May and June, this is likely to be a significant contributory factor. In these unprecedented times, motorists will have to just wait and see what happens next.

But in the meantime, it is still worth taking steps to try and keep a lid on insurance costs.

Tips to beat the cost:

  • At renewal time, resist the temptation to auto-renew. There are few rewards for loyalty when it comes to car cover, so it’s well worth shopping around to compare prices and see if you can find a more competitive premium.
  • Shop around at least a week before your policy renews – and ideally even earlier – to get the best deal.
  • Also do your research online when purchasing breakdown cover to see if you can make savings by switching.
  • Opt for a higher voluntary excess, as this will mean savings on your premium. But before making this change, work out whether paying a lower premium is worth the risk of having to contribute more towards the cost of a claim if you have an accident.
  • Ditch the ‘added extras.’ Ask yourself whether you really need things such as legal expenses cover, key cover, or use of a courtesy cover. Removing these could mean big savings on your premium.
  • Pay for your cover annually upfront. While you might like the idea of spreading the cost of your insurance over a year, if you pay in monthly instalments, your insurer may treat your premium as a high-interest loan, and charge interest. A better way to spread the cost of cover – for free – is by paying for your policy with a 0% purchase credit card. But if you go down this route, ensure you clear the balance in full before the 0% period ends. Representative example: If you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a. your representative APR is 19.9% APR (variable)
  • Improve the security of your car. You could reduce your premium by taking simple steps such as having an alarm or immobiliser fitted – or by parking your car in a garage or driveway, rather than leaving it on the road.
  • Younger drivers could consider a ‘telematics’ insurance policy. These ‘black box’ policies reward safer driving with lower premiums.

MOT and maintenance

As any driver will, testify, car repair bills do not come cheap, and can often make a big dent in the finances.

Tips to beat the cost:

  • Do your research. Before booking your car in for a service, spend time shopping around. Costs will vary, so don’t accept the first quote you get. Hunt out the best deals and look online for the most competitive prices.
  • Keep your car in good condition. By looking after your car, you can help avoid hefty bills when you do need to take it to the garage.
  • Carry out some DIY. Big savings can be made by doing a little maintenance before taking your car for its MOT – such as changing defunct bulbs yourself. Other things to check include washer, brake and anti-freeze fluids.
  • Don’t get clobbered with a £1,000 fine for driving without an MOT – make sure yours is up-to-date. Note that as lockdown eases, there could be a backlog of vehicles needing an MOT, so book early

Road tax

Vehicle Excise Duty – otherwise known as ‘car tax’ or ‘road tax’ is a big running cost for drivers.

The amount you pay is based on how ‘green’ your vehicle is.

For ‘newer’ cars (registered on or after April 1, 2017), you’ll pay a rate based on a vehicle’s CO2 emissions the first time it’s registered. (Older models are taxed by CO2 emissions or fuel type).

Tips to beat the cost:

  • Opt for a more environmentally friendly car. If you own a high-emissions car, look into exchanging it for one with lower emissions to slash the amount you pay in road tax.
  • Consider an electric vehicle. With no emissions, electric vehicles are better for the environment – plus you don’t have to pay a penny in road tax.

Parking

Parking is another unwelcome expense that comes with owning a car. Costs can soon mount up, and especially if you have to pay to park in a city centre or other busy area.

Tips to beat the cost:

  • Familiarise yourself with the cheapest parking spots locally.
  • If you’re new to a city, make use of apps, such as Justpark,com, Parkopedia.com and RingGo.co.uk which can help you locate cheap places to leave your car.
  • Rather than pay eye-watering prices in station car parks, check out nearby roads where parking is free.
  • Look into renting a space on someone’s driveway close to the station or your office. Try sites such as Parkonmydrive and Yourparkingspace.

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