Guide: keeping motoring costs down

The recent budget announcement has promised three 1p per litre increases in fuel duty between April 2010 and January 2011. With fuel prices closing in on 120p per litre, the cost of running a conventional combustion engine car is set to rise.

So what can motorists do to save money when running a car? We’ve collected advice from industry experts to advise you on saving money from the moment you step into the showroom to buy your new car.

Residual Value

We’ve all heard people talking about how cars lose a large percentage of their value as soon as they are driven off the forecourt. It is an inevitable loss with all cars, as prices will drop as the number of miles driven increases.

However, some cars are better than others at retaining value, meaning more money for the consumer when it is time to sell the car.

Residual value of a certain model can be affected by the age of the car, distance travelled, the reputation of the car, number of safety recalls, availability and cost of spare parts, and condition of the individual car.

Some cars do generally have a higher residual value than others. A recent survey by Used Car Expert magazine showed the Renault Megane and Mazda 3 retained some of the highest values after three years of ownership, keeping 37 per cent of their original values.

Kia fared even better, with the Kia Cee’d retaining 41 per cent of initial value. The survey suggested small family hatchbacks were the best cars for retaining value in general, while sports cars or luxury models tended to depreciate faster.

Running Costs

Running costs are effectively the costs of wear and tear on the vehicle, but they also include fuel costs (see below), tolls, road tax and insurance.

There are a number of ways to reduce the running costs of your vehicle:

Repair costs – Repair costs will be higher on cars which are rarer and therefore more difficult to find and fit parts for. For example, best-selling Ford Focus and Fiesta are notoriously cheap and easy to repair because of the wide availability of car parts.

Always checking things such as the oil and level of coolant in your car can save you valuable money in the long run. Similarly regular services and tyre pressure checks will reduce the risk of serious damage happening to your car and could potentially save you thousands of pounds in repair costs.

Tax – Every car must have road tax before it is legally allowed on the road. Even parked cars need road tax if they are parked on UK roads. There are ways to reduce costs arising from tax however. VED road tax levels are calculated on the environmental impact of the specific model , measured in CO2 emissions.

Our VED guide shows the various ‘bands’ a car can fall in and how much you are likely to pay in VED. Car manufacturers are generally reducing emissions across their ranges, and models such as the Ford eco:DRIVE range, the Alfa MultiAir and Citroen DS3 offer low-CO2 emissions and therefore lower tax.

Similarly, some very low-CO2 models are exempt from congestion charges, most notable in London. Always check the CO2 level of a car before buying.

Fuel – One of the biggest, and most unavoidable costs of driving, fuel prices are increasing. Short of buying a plug-in hybrid or alternative fuel model, there isn’t much that can be done to reduce fuel prices.

Always fill your tank before motorway driving to avoid higher service station costs.
Diesels offer higher miles per gallon but cost more at the pump. Diesel engines tend to offer lower CO2 emissions that petrol as well, meaning lower VED charges. The choice between petrol and diesel comes down to the individuals driving style, amount of car use and personal preference.

Careful driving

Cars with higher miles per gallon (mpg) figures will have more efficient engines and will make a litre of fuel last longer, thus saving the driver money. Mpg can be increased by economical driving. Tips for more efficient driving include:

– Bad news for boy racers, but slowing down will boost mpg and save fuel. On the motorway, driving at 50mph instead of 80mph can reduce fuel consumption by nearly 20 per cent according to figures from the AA.

– If the air conditioning is not necessary, turn it off. Although always try to turn it on once a month to keep it in working order.

– Clearing anything from your boot which is not needed immediately will reduce weight and increase fuel efficiency.

– A roof rack will reduce the aerodynamics of the car and increase drag. If it’s not needed, leave it at home.

– Inflating tyres properly can save up to eight per cent of fuel costs. Under-inflated tyres can increase wear and reduce fuel economy.

– Smooth gear changes and steady pressure on the accelerator and brakes can increase the mpg figure.

Luckily, car manufacturers are regularly introducing lower CO2 and higher mpg engines which provide the same performance of older engines.

At the end of the day, a smaller, more fuel efficient car will see your money stretch further. For more information, take a look at our top ten smaller cars.