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4 Tips To Cut Your Monthly Car Costs

Author: Andrew Williams

Seeing your hard-earned money get drained month after month by recurring fees and expenses can be incredibly frustrating. Between the necessities of housing, transportation and food, it's a common personal finance rule of thumb to allot a whole 50 percent of your income to cover these costs.But to meet your financial goals and build a cushion for potential emergency situations, it's important to find ways to save money wherever you can on these major expenses.

Budgets are likely tight following the summer travel months; according to a CreditDonkey study, 76.5 percent of those surveyed in 2013 about their summer travel plans listed gas prices as a major concern.

But what are some ways to minimize necessary costs? Here are some components of your transportation budget that could be adjusted to unlock major savings.

1. Reduce Your Monthly Loan Payment With a Refinance

If you're paying an exorbitant amount in interest on your current auto loan, it might be wise to refinance -- and the time is definitely prime. National auto loan rates are remaining at near-historic lows: 3.26% APR for a 36-month loan, 4.01% APR for a 48-month loan and 3.58% APR for a 60-month loan, according to the GOBankingRates interest rate database.

Refinancing your auto loan to get a lower rate can have a significant impact on the total cost of your vehicle, regardless of term. However, if you specifically want to lower your monthly expenses, opting for a longer-term loan will better accomplish your goal. Many Americans are opting for these products, too; according to USA Today, there was a 25.1 percent increase in 73- to 84-month loans in 2013.

When compared side-by-side on the GOBankingRates auto loan calculator, a 48-month loan for $28,000 with a 3.94% APR will cost $631.46 monthly, whereas an 84-month term would bring that monthly payment down to $381.95. That's $249.51 in savings each month. Keep in mind, you'll pay almost $2,000 more in interest over the life of the loan; but, when spread out over three extra years, opting for a longer-term loan can help alleviate month-to-month budget stress.

2. Purchase an Energy-Efficient Car

If you have enough money saved up front to cover the higher cost of an energy-efficient or electric vehicle, it might be worth investing now to enjoy lower monthly transportation costs in the long term.

The average price for a new Toyota Prius ranges from $24,023 to $29,583, with the vehicle boasting an EPA-estimated 51 MPG city and 48 MPG highway, according to U.S. News & World Report. In comparison, the Ford Mustang's average starting price is $22,685, offering just 19 MPG city and 29 MPG highway.

When comparing base models, the Toyota Prius costs almost $1,500 more up front; however, the monthly gas expenses for the Prius are less than half that of the Mustang. The initial investment in an energy-efficient vehicle could save you at the pump on a regular basis, significantly reducing your trips to refill. Additionally, there are tax credits to offset the higher initial cost of fuel-efficient cars.

Producer of "Perils For Pedestrians," John Wetmore, said that getting by with one less car in a family can also reduce expenses beyond just the monthly gas bill.

"You will really save money if your family can get by with one less car and also have fewer car payments, not to mention insurance, tires and maintenance," Wetmore said.

3. Stay On Top of Car Maintenance and Insurance

In the same way that low tire pressure makes a bicycle inefficient and difficult to maneuver, your vehicle's tire pressure can contribute to increased transportation costs.

According to Jordan Perch, analyst for DMV.com, the way you drive your vehicle can greatly contribute to its fuel economy.

"The most effective tips that can help you improve your car's fuel economy include driving within speed limits, avoiding hard accelerating and braking, making sure your tires are properly inflated, and avoiding high revs," Perch said. "Also, proper maintenance is a must, which includes changing your spark plugs when needed, replacing your air filter often and checking your oil regularly."

Additionally, it's beneficial for drivers to reevaluate their auto insurance policies when up for renewal, as personal circumstances might have changed, qualifying them for a better rate. For example, a new job that's closer to home and reduces daily mileage can reduce your insurance costs, as can the removal of a ticket from your traffic record.

4. Opt for Public Transit or Ride Sharing Whenever Possible

Do you have access to public transit, live nearby a coworker or have a neighbor who works in the same part of town? Uusing public transit or carpooling, if possible, can save you a significant amount of money each month.

The American Public Transportation Association estimates that those who commute by public transit save as much as $13,765 annually. If ride sharing is better suited for your situation, carpooling to work can amount to $200 a month in savings if gas costs are shared, according to Perch. If you're looking for a fellow commuter, check out sites like CarpoolWorld and eRideShare that connect drivers with fellow carpoolers.

If you opt to carpool but want to save even more, BeFrugal.com founder Jon Lal recommended shopping for the best gas prices and taking advantage of rewards points to cover fuel costs.

To fill your tank up for less, modify your gas-buying habits," Lal said. "If your local grocery store has a gas station, see if you can cash in your grocery store reward points for a reduced price on gas. Or cash in your credit card point rewards for gift cards to purchase gas anywhere. To see where the lowest price gas is near you, use an app like Gas Buddy, Local Gas Prices or Cheap Gas.

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