13 Frugal Ways to Save on Car Ownership

by Kevin on August 16, 2009

How frugal is too frugal? What things can’t you give up? What frugal things work for you?

I’ve been called cheap sometimes. I like to think I’m frugal. I think I understand the value of a dollar.

When it comes to cars there are somethings I am willing to splurge on, but usually most things I do on my own. Doing them on my own does save me money, but for the most part I also enjoy the process. (Or why would I be in the middle of getting a vintage BMW up and running?)

Shop labor rates can run $45 per hour to $90 per hour depending on where you go. A few small fixes that you could do yourself can end up saving you serious cash.

Thirteen Frugal Ways to Save on Car Ownership

Here are some frugal things we do revolving around owning and maintaining vehicles:

1. We wash our cars at home rather than paying $4 to $9 to do it at the gas station or car wash.

2. We also wax and clean the interior of our cars at home rather than paying someone $30 to $100 to detail them. Do we do as good of a job? No. But it is good enough for me.

3. We plan to own our vehicles for 8 to 12 years — my wife’s car is a 2002 and is on schedule to be replaced in 2012.

4. We plan to pay cash for every vehicle we purchase from here on out — again, we are on pace to save up enough money to buy my wife a new car in cash in the fall of 2012, followed up by a new vehicle for me in 2014. Also to be paid in cash. We started saving for these vehicles two years ago.

5. I track my gas mileage like a hawk. I have a notebook that I keep in the car and at each fill up I monitor how many miles I drove, how much gas I used, and other data. Through this I am able to calculate my miles per gallon. Then I turn into a geek and create charts from the data to monitor my own miles per gallon. This reminds me I need to update my data and rerun my charts again.

6. I change our air filters rather than being charged by a shop to do it. The air filters are around $10 or so from an auto parts store. Changing them is relatively easy (although on my Accord it took a lot of muscling to gain access to the filter area.)

7. I’ve changed my spark plugs before to avoid being charged by a shop to do it. Changing your plugs is relatively easy, but beware: if you screw up the installation you could ruin your engine. (Essentially you can screw them in wrong and mess up the threads inside the engine. Can be expensive to repair.)

8. I order tires online. My wife recently had a flat tire. Instead of paying $80-90 for decent tires locally I ordered them online for $62 each with free shipping. (One of my next articles will go over how to order tires online.)

9. I shopped around and saved $50 by having my wife’s tires installed at Wal-Mart instead of one of the local shops. They did a fine job although I would be nervous taking nice aftermarket wheels to them.

10. Changing out bulbs for your headlights, turn signals, and brake lights is usually simple. Get them from the auto parts store for $5 or so and find instructions online.

11. In my first car I changed out the radio and installed one with a CD player on my own. This was initially a bit of a pain, but only because I didn’t know what I was doing.

12. I change our wiper blades myself. Again buy them at the auto parts store and switch them out. It’s hard to do the first time if you don’t know what you’re doing, but after that it is really easy.

13. I consistently shop our car insurance around. A few months ago I was able to switch carriers, get better coverage, and save $146 per year. Big simple win.

Of course there are some things I simply won’t do. There are also a couple of things I’ve done in the past in order to be frugal and they’ve cost me a ton of money. I’ll share those stories with you in my next article.

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Getting Into The Frugal Mindset on Cars « The Crafty Dollar
November 3, 2009 at 1:33 am


B7 August 16, 2009 at 8:01 am

Instead of buying a new car, buy a reliable (Honda or Toyota) used car that is 3 years old and gets good mileage. It only costs 50% of the price of the new car, and will last 10 years, especially if you don’t drive more than 10,000 miles per year.

By the way, I am on a similar plan. I finish paying off my car in 3 months (after 5 years!) and will never get a car loan again. It’s either pay cash or keep driving the same car.

Also, buying a used car for cash puts us on the other side of the debt/ wealth curve. Instead of paying interest on a $25,000 car for 5 years, we can pay cash for a used car that costs $15,000. Then, we can invest that remaining $10,000. After 5 years growing at 10%, it becomes $16,000. That is a passive income of over $1,000 per year.

Kevin August 16, 2009 at 11:36 am

I neglected to mention… whenever I say we plan to buy a “new” car, I mean new to us. Not new. Definitely looking at models that are 1-2 years old. I let someone else take the depreciation hit.

Des August 17, 2009 at 10:53 am

You might also consider imports other than Honda and Toyota. Since these two brands are known for their reliability, that is factored into the used price. Our Suzuki has over 200k miles on it and counting, with no major repairs to date. Comparing used Suzukis in our area to their Toyota counterparts it looks like they’re almost 50% cheaper. We plan on driving our little car till it dies. If it lasts till 300k, I’ll be fully sold on our “off-brand” import. Just something to consider…

Ricky August 19, 2009 at 11:26 am

Don’t toss aside domestics either. If you do your homework you can get a great car for less money than a pre-owned import. And not all imports are created equal anyway. The resources are abundant for researching quality and reliability standards for used cars. Put them to good use!

Stephanie August 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I’ve enjoyed reading your posts each day and linked back to this particular post from my blog.Thanks for the great list:

Wain January 15, 2010 at 2:58 pm

If you plan to keep your car for a while make sure to avoid any and all American brands; if you have an American car with, let say 75K miles on it, go to a local dealership act like you’re planning to buy so they will appraise your American clunker, almost as a rule they don’t give an American car with 75K or more a second look. On the other hand take an import be it Japanese or German. With around 100K on the odometer, appraisers know the entire car is just a baby with a long life ahead. Not unusual for an import to reach the 300K mark on original power train, basic maintenance. So figure; if you drive let say 10K per year, your import shall pound pavement for the next 30 years and that’s no bull.

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