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10 Ways You Burn Money on Your CarJoel Dresang
No one likes to waste money.
Even in the glare of a new-car exhibition, clear-eyed auto buffs can see how people squander money on what they drive. Enthusiasts at the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show say consumers sometimes pay extra for their ignorance, their arrogance, and their laziness when it comes to cars.
Amid the gleaming wax jobs of the latest models and that intoxicating new-car smell, Shane Jagodzinsky, of Manitowoc, Wis., says he has learned to do his homework before spending money on a car.
"Research before you just go in and buy anything, and do it right the first time," says Jagodzinsky, who works at a factory that makes auto parts.
Henry Robinson, a retired Milwaukee schoolteacher, says it's important to consider your personal tastes and driving habits.
"I don't go for the fancy wheels, all that stuff," Robinson says. "I just basically go with standard equipment."
Andy Krieger, a high-school student from Wind Lake, Wis., says he's wiser for having taken a couple of automotive shop classes. He can change the oil and rotate the tires, but more important, he says, he can talk knowledgeably with his mechanic.
"I figure, get at least some basic knowledge," Krieger says. "It'll probably save me down the road."
With the cost of buying a new car averaging more than $25,000, it's easy to overlook the costs of driving one. But Runzheimer International, a cost management consultant in Rochester, Wis., estimates that operating a 2003 Ford Focus--including gas, oil, tires, and maintenance--costs more than $2,300 a year; for a Lincoln Town Car, it's more than $3,400.
One lesson found in places like auto shows is that there's no limit to how much you can spend on a car. The buyer's guide at the Milwaukee exhibition included vehicles with sticker prices as high as $350,000. Likewise, there are no limits on how you can waste money on a car. But for starters, here's a list of 10.
1. Not knowing yourselfThink hard about why you need a vehicle. How you use it and how long you intend to keep it will make a difference on which car or truck to own and whether to buy an extended service agreement. The difference in gas costs between a 30-mile-per-gallon economy car and a 20-mile-per-gallon pickup is $400 a year, based on 15,000 miles and $1.60 per gallon.
2. Not knowing your carRead through your vehicle's owner manual and warranty information to learn about your rights as a customer and the manufacturer's maintenance recommendations. Get familiar with your car by washing it yourself and checking the oil level and tire pressure. Build a working knowledge of cars through automotive advice columns and by asking lots of questions of mechanics and auto-savvy friends.
3. Not paying attention
Your car's gas gauge lets you know when you're low on fuel. But there are other less obvious signs that your vehicle needs attention, such as drips in your driveway, subtle smells, and squeals and rattles.
4. Not keeping tabsHave a notebook and pen in your glove compartment. When you sense trouble, jot down the symptoms, including date and mileage. Keep a log of service visits and repairs. Collect receipts in a file folder. Records can help diagnose car problems, support warranty claims, document expenses, and verify your vehicle's value when you want to sell it.
5. Not being carefulSpeeding, jackrabbit acceleration, and hard stops can waste up to 49 cents per gallon of your fuel efficiency, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Aggressive driving also strains your tires. Sensible driving and better planning can save you from speeding tickets and parking fines. Reckless, inattentive, and drunken driving can lead to costly damages, injuries, and insurance.
6. Not shoppingFor everything from the car you buy to the gas you put in it, it pays to look around for the best deal--which isn't always just the cheapest. Use your personal networks as well as the Internet to help you shop for insurance, mechanics, and more.
7. Not seeking help
At the top of your shopping list should be a reliable service shop. Dealerships tend to cost more but offer a relationship through which you can manage your next trade-up. Independent garages are more motivated to keep your car running than selling you a new one. Wherever you choose, recognize that regular maintenance pays off. A well-tuned car can save up to 60 cents per gallon in fuel costs. Clean air filters alone can add 10% to fuel efficiency.
Once you find trustworthy automotive professionals, treat them as professionals, advises Austin Davis, author of "What Your Mechanic Doesn't Want You to Know." "Be honest," Davis says. "Don't hold back any relevant information that might expedite the repair."
8. Not thinking for yourselfFind a trustworthy mechanic, but don't blindly follow advice without raising questions or seeking second opinions. Weigh your intentions for your vehicle against the sometimes conflicting maintenance schedules advised by your owner's manual and your repair shop. Balance getting enough service with not getting too much.
9. Not following directionsAt the same time, don't think you can outsmart the experts by chasing after gimmicks that promise to enhance your vehicle's performance or boost its fuel efficiency. Don't buy expensive premium gasoline unless advised by your owner's manual or mechanic.
10. Not being resourcefulTo lower operating costs and make your car last longer, leave it at home. Walk when you can. Share rides with others. Use public transportation. Plan errands so that you schedule a number of stops in one trip rather than driving off every time you need another quart of milk.
Do your homework
With space-age technology and a mind-numbing array of vehicles and options, motorists are increasingly reliant on the paid expertise of others. The best way to avoid burning money on your car is to become an expert yourself. Short of that, a little knowledge and curiosity can go a long way.
"Just do your homework," says Jagodzinsky, at the auto show. "Then, it's just a matter of asking the right questions."