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How much does it cost to own a car?
According to the Canadian Automobile Association, once you've factored in the cost of insurance, depreciation and other incidentals, car ownership can cost between $6,000 and $9,000 a year, depending on the make and model of your car. And those are just the fixed costs. Once you add fuel and other operating costs to that mix, you're looking at spending many thousands more, depending on how far and how frequently you drive.
While getting rid of your car is the obvious way to save money, it might not be a realistic option for people who live outside of urban centres. Instead, consider these smaller steps to reduce car costs.
1. Drive less aggressively
If you want to preserve the life of your car, consider driving more slowly and carefully. You'll not only extend the life of your brakes but you'll cut back on fuel costs, too. Dave Rennie, owner of Dave Rennie's Autocare in Ottawa, says slowing down is one of the easiest ways to save money.
"When you're driving fast, the engine has to work harder, and wind resistance also becomes a factor," he explains. He says driving at 120 kilometres an hour on the highway can easily use 20 percent more fuel than driving at 100 kilometres an hour.
"Manufacturers design cars so that they get the best fuel economy at the speed limit," says Rennie. He says some cars -- especially smaller ones -- are sensitive to being pushed hard to go faster and will compensate by gobbling up gas. Even in the city, he advises drivers to avoid accelerating hard and then jumping on the brakes, which is hard on the car and causes unnecessary wear and tear.
2. Check your tires
Though it sounds simple, keeping your tires properly inflated can go a long way towards helping your reduce car costs.
"Tire pressure is critical," says Rennie, explaining that tires that are under-inflated generate more heat and wear out more quickly and unevenly.
"Think about trying to push a full wheelbarrow that has a flat tire," he laughs. "It's a lot harder to do!" He says keeping your tires properly inflated will not only extend their life, but will help with fuel efficiency, too.
While some cars have warning lights that come on when the tire pressure goes down, Rennie says they aren't foolproof. Instead, he recommends checking your pressure regularly with a tire gauge.
3. Maintain your vehicle
One of the best ways to reduce car costs in the long run is to keep your car well maintained. "Don't wait until something fails," advises Rennie. "Most manufacturers recommend that you have things serviced after a certain number of kilometres. If you do that, you'll have a better chance to getting the full value out of your car."
He points out that in the Canadian climate, staying on top of rust is particularly key, because it can cause cars to wear out before their time. "Rustproofing your car when you buy it will be money well spent if you plan to keep it long-term," he says.
4. Reduce your insurance
Though there's no getting around the cost of having car insurance, there are ways to reduce how much you're paying.
"The first thing you should do is talk to your insurance representative to make sure you have appropriate coverage," says Steve Kee of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. He says options for lowering costs can range from increasing your deductible to deciding not to have collision insurance, particularly if your vehicle is more than 10 years old (it may be worth less than the insurance you're paying on it).
When they're making their assessment, insurance companies also look at things like what kind of car you drive (some cars have lower cost insurance ratings - do the research before your next purchase), whether your car has an alarm system, and how many kilometres you tend to log (driving less will help lower your rate). Kee says it's also worth asking about bundling: If you buy all your insurance from one company, you may be able to work out a deal.
5. Consider carpooling or car sharing
If you're ready to think differently about driving, sharing cars is a great option. Carpooling is an economic boon for people heading in the same direction on a regular basis. And more people in a car together not only helps to reduce car costs, but it's better for the environment, too.
People living in urban centres from Victoria to Halifax may want to consider joining a car-sharing network. Membership allows you to use a car on an hourly, as-needed basis -- a good option if you don't need to drive in to work every day.
"Carsharing saves people money because it converts the fixed cost of owning a vehicle into a variable costs, so you pay as you drive," says Kevin McLaughlin, President of Toronto's Autoshare. "If you own a car, you pretty much have to drive it everywhere to get your money's worth. But once people shed their car, a world of flexibility opens up."