After a home, a car is the second-largest purchase most consumers make. But the costs don't stop when you drive off the dealer's lot.
Owning and operating a vehicle also accounts for the second-largest household expense, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; continuing upkeep costs roughly $8,700 a year, according to AAA's Your Driving Costs study. That breaks down to $725 a month and 58 cents, on average, for each mile driven.
Want to know in advance what kind of outlay to expect? Before you purchase a new vehicle, run your options through Kelley Blue Book's cost-of-ownership calculator. This tool will estimate the out-of-pocket costs -- like fuel, state fees, maintenance, financing and insurance -- and depreciation of a car for the first five years you own it, allowing you to compare vehicles beyond initial sticker price.
Once the car is parked in your driveway, however, there are a variety of strategies that can help you save thousands of dollars over its life. (Scroll down to the bottom for the set of assumptions we used for these calculations.) These tips fall into three main areas: fuel costs, insurance, and repairs/maintenance.
Save on Fuel
1. Drive sensibly: Speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking are the quickest ways to waste gas. Such aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds and by 5% around town, according to research prepared for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which developed and maintains the U.S. Department of Energy and EPA's website on fuel economy.
Savings: Up to $477 a year, or between 13 cents and 89 cents a gallon, depending on how aggressively you drive and the number of highway miles you rack up.
2. Cruise at 50 mph. Gas mileage typically decreases once your speed exceeds 50 mph, so set your cruise control. “You can think of it like this: Every 5 mph you drive above 50 mph is like paying an additional 20 cents per gallon of gas,” says Bo Saulsbury, senior researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Savings: $ 198 a year, if you normally drive 60 mph on the freeway.
3. Stop idling. If you're parked and waiting, turn the engine off. Idling can use a quarter to a half-gallon of fuel per hour; restarting your vehicle, by contrast, only takes about 10 seconds worth of fuel, according to research from Argonne National Laboratory. And don’t leave it to warm up in the winter: Most manufacturers recommend driving your car slowly 30 seconds after starting it. "You'll get warm quicker by doing it this way, since the engine warm ups faster by being driven, and thus allows the heater to turn on sooner," says Saulsbury.
Savings: $140 a year if you usually idle for two hours during the course of a week.
4. Embrace the heat. Try setting the air conditioning for a higher temperature or, if you're really bold, go without it. Running the air conditioning can reduce a vehicle's fuel economy by more than 25%, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Saulsbury recommends "driving with the windows open for a short time before using the A/C to let hot air out first, and putting the windows down at low speeds and using A/C at high speeds."
Savings: Up to $120 a year in extra fuel costs, if you would otherwise run the air conditioning four months out of the year.
5. Get the right motor oil. Using something other than the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil will lower your gas mileage by about 1%-2% because of increased friction in the engine; the correct oil can prevent the metal surfaces in the engine from grinding together. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory also recommends looking for oil that says "energy conserving" on the API performance symbol -- an indication that it contains friction-reducing additives.
Savings: $27 a year.
6. Keep your tires inflated. Making sure you've got proper pressure can improve your gas mileage by 3.3%, according to Saulsbury. Do not go by the maximum pressure level printed on the tire's sidewall, experts say: You can usually find the correct tire pressure level for your car printed on a sticker in the driver's side doorjamb or glove box. (It will be in your owner's manual as well.) Abilio Toledo, Los Angeles area manager for Firestone Complete Auto Care, recommends buying a tire gauge and checking your pressure about once a month, as tires lose an average of about two pounds of pressure per month. "Even if you have a tire pressure monitoring system, these systems usually only alert you once the tire has lost about five pounds of pressure and that causes your fuel mileage to go down." (The other upside of properly inflating your tires: less chance of a blowout, which could be both costly and dangerous.)
Savings: About $112 a year, according to a study conducted by Edmunds, though it says savings can top $800 for drivers with severely underinflated tires.
7. Check the apps. To find the lowest gas price in your area, consider using the GasBuddy app or website, says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com -- "but remember not to drive out of your way to save. Instead look for the cheapest station along your commute."
Savings: Using the MONEY office's zip code, we were able to find a 50-cent price difference per gallon between the five nearest gas stations. If that differential held, it would yield almost $270 in annual savings.
8. Spend smarter. To save even more when you're at the pump, sign up for a credit card that offers cash back on gas purchases. MONEY recommends the American Express Blue Cash Preferred, which offers 3% cash back on gas (as well as 6% on groceries). It comes with a $75 annual fee, though the $150 signing bonus can offset that in your first year.
Savings: I f you buy $500 worth of groceries and $120 of gas each month, you'll get $478 back the first year, counting the fee and bonus .
Save on Insurance
9. Shop around. Only 39% of Americans looked for new auto insurance last year, according to a study by J.D. Power. But shopping around can yield big savings, the study found. The next time you need to renew, get annual quotes from at least four companies that have low complaint ratios with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Savings: Shoppers who did switch reported average savings of $388.
10. Cut coverage on older vehicles. Once your car is 10 years old or worth less than 10 times the premium, the cost of repairing it could be more than the car is worth, says Reed. Ditching collision coverage could save you up to 40%.
Savings: As much as $440 a year by scaling down to just injury and property damage coverage.
11. Bundle insurance policies. Insuring your home and auto with a single company could bring your rates down by about 10% a year, says Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights for Kelley Blue Book.
Savings: A study of 2 billion price quotes from more than 700 companies nationwide by Consumer Reports found that bundling home and car insurance would save the average customer $97 a year. But you may get an even bigger payoff, depending on your location: Michigan residents, for instance, would save $240 by uniting the two.