Ten Ways to Save More Money by Changing How You Drive

Adam Rust

Americans spend a lot of money driving their cars. According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove an average of 13,476 miles per year. At 54.5 cents per mile (the federal standard mileage reimbursement rate), that translates to a cost of $7,344.

Driving presents a unique opportunity for savers. As evidenced by the figure I mentioned just a moment ago, it is a substantial expense area for most households. It’s also the case that there is some fungibility in driving habits. Unlike housing, a line item where making a change comes with substantial switching costs, with driving you can adjust plenty of things about your car without too much difficulty.


Change your air filter. An air filter for a late model Honda Accord costs about twenty dollars. It should last approximately 30,000 miles. Experts say that replacing your air filter should improve your gas mileage seven to ten percent. If your car averaged about 25 mpg during 2018, when gas prices averaged $2.57, then you would have saved $216 in one year with that new air filter.

Inflate your tires: Inflating tires will improve mileage, albeit only by about one percent. However, it should also increase the lifetime of your tires by somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 percent. If you were going to get 40,000 miles out of your tires, then proper inflation might give you an extra 8,000 miles. You will get $240 in value out of $200 tire: Net savings per year - $80: net cost – about seven to ten dollars.

Buy 87: Unless your car requires explicitly higher-octane fuel, use 87. Higher-octane fuels have a higher resistance to detonation  – the technical term for the process that creates a “knocking” engine. Higher-octane gas will not increase your mileage in a way that will overcome the additional cost.

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Operating Your Vehicle:

Don’t speed. Your mileage will fall, particularly with around-the-town driving where going faster will increase not just the cost of moving your car, but also the amount of time you will spend idling at a red light. You will also extend the life of your brake pads.

Join a carpool. Why not? Would you rather drive your kids back and forth from school five days a week? Live in a city clogged up with traffic? Enjoy letting someone else handle the stress. You might even want to try slugging.

Pack food for a road trip. Gas station convenience stores charge more than two dollars for a simple power bar. The 1 pound bag of licorice will run you about $3.50. An organic apple might cost cents. Bananas have been inflation proof for two decades. They cost 59 cents a pound in 2010, and they cost 59 cents a pound in 2019. By the way, swapping out fruit for those Twizzlers will save about 2,000 calories!

Drive away from temptation. Most people respond to temptation. If you drive by the mall every day, you will inevitably want to buy more stuff. Be honest: if you cruise by your favorite restaurant every evening on the way home from work, won’t you stop off to get a bite to eat every once in a while? Take a different route and pocket the difference.

Ride your bike! Please! Please ride your bike. Save the earth. Save yourself the cost of a gym membership! Every mile you bike saves 54.5 cents per mile, minus the cost of chain oil, the occasional tire, and maybe a brake pad. If you ride your bike enough to wear out the tires, you deserve a pat on the back.  


Set up automatic payments: If you finance the purchase of your car, your lender may reduce your interest rate if you let it set up an automatic debit of your account. A reduction of ½ percent of interest will amount to $280 over the life of a 5-year, $20,000 loan. You will also save $43 on stamps!

If you have good credit, borrowing might be a good option. Some car companies originate loans at zero or almost-zero percent interest. If you can find a loan at a rate below the yield of a 5-year treasury, you should borrow. You will want to match the term of the Treasury with the duration of your loan. As of today, 5-year Treasuries pay 2.13 percent. Instead of putting money down, invest it in a Treasury bond fund. You will come out ahead in the long run. A caveat – be careful about picking a new car solely because the dealer offers a zero-percent loan. You are always better off buying a used car, as you will avoid the steep rates of depreciation that cars experience during their initial years. CarMax, the nation’s largest seller of used cars, still offers zero-interest loans to its buyers who select one of its newer models.

Remember, the idea is to reduce how you spend so that you can then increase how much you save. You can think of some of these ideas as short-term costs that will yield high returns over time. Buying an air filter is a guaranteed risk-free investment that will return tenfold on its upfront cost.

Once you start these habits, you will have extra money to set aside for savings. Every one of these ideas could save you at least $10 per month. That adds up to $120 per month and $2,400 per year! 

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