Lucky enough to have a car as a student? You’ll know just how expensive they can be to run, so let us show you how to cut costs!
When your only income is your Student Loan – and maybe a part-time job to supplement that – it can be a massive drain on your finances to run a car as a student.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that depending on where you live and if you’re having to commute to uni, having a car is simply a necessary expense that you need to fork out for.
Thankfully, there are loads of ways you can cut down on your monthly motor outgoings. Studies have even found you can save upwards of 30% on petrol costs if you make a few small changes to your driving habits. And who wouldn’t want that, eh?
How to cut the cost of owning a car
Keep your tyres inflated
Having low tyre pressure increases ‘drag’ (it’s a physics thing – please don’t ask us to explain, because we can’t). This causes your car to use up more fuel, not to mention the fact that it’s pretty dangerous.
By making sure your tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure (you’ll find this in the user manual or the display on the inside of your car door) you can save yourself about 3% on fuel costs.
Believe it or not, air isn’t always free and some petrol stations will charge a fee for tyre inflation, so make sure you suss out where to fill-up beforehand! You don’t want to waste cash on something you can get for free elsewhere.
Drive slowly and consistently
As fun as it may be to pretend you’re the next Lewis Hamilton, driving fast will cost you a hell of a lot of money. And, of course, going over the speed limit is dangerous, illegal and could see you fined too!
Driving at 80mph can use up to 25% more petrol than at 70mph, while driving at 70mph uses up to 9% more fuel than at 60mph.
Maintaining a more consistent speed rather than constantly speeding up and decelerating also saves on petrol consumption (plus, it’s also a lot less annoying for everyone around you).
Don’t use the brakes too much
While we definitely wouldn’t advise you to avoid using your brakes, be aware that over-using them can increase fuel consumption. Staying a safe distance from the driver in front and anticipating a junction means you can ease off the accelerator, rather than slam on the brakes.
Also, avoid using your brakes a lot at speed bumps. Braking hard, then accelerating quickly over speeds bumps uses up loads of petrol. Try to maintain a steady 15–20mph over speed bumps, as not only will it improve your fuel economy, but it’ll feel a lot smoother too.
Don’t get fined
This might sound pretty obvious as of course you want to avoid getting fined! But there are a few small things you might forget about that can put you at risk of getting slapped with a driving-related charge.
For example, you’re legally obliged to update your licence photograph every ten years, regardless of how little your appearance has changed in that time.
Keep an eye on the expiry date of your photo card licence – if you drive with an expired card, you could end up with a £1,000 fine. And with passport pics up for grabs at 15p, you’ve really got no excuse!
Pay your car tax annually
There are a few different payment options available for your car tax, and some are cheaper than others.
If you choose to pay by Direct Debit every six months or monthly, you’ll usually incur a 5% surcharge. Paying by Direct Debit annually is the cheapest option.
If you can’t afford to pay it all upfront, another option would be to set up a standing order to pay your folks instead of the tax man and ask them nicely to pay it up front on your behalf.
Obviously, this option won’t suit everyone, but if you put it to your folks that you’re suggesting this in order to avoid the 5% surcharge, they might be willing to help you out!
Keep your MOT cheap
As you may or may not know, by law you need to get your car MOT’d three years after registration (four if you live in Northern Ireland) then each year after that. The experience of an MOT can be extremely painful, or completely pain-free, depending on how you treat your car.
For a start, give the car a once-over before you take it in to see if there’s anything that’s broken that you can fix yourself – use the car’s manual as a reference. Even the smallest issues can cause you to fail your MOT, meaning you’ll have to pay to have it redone once you fix things up.
It’s also true that some garages that offer MOTs may say you need work done while another will say you’ve passed – it just depends if they’re having a quiet day or are in need of the extra business.
Your best option is to take your car to a smaller, council-run MOT centre that doesn’t do any repairs in-house. As they don’t benefit from squeezing extra money out of you, they’re more likely to be honest when telling you what condition your car is in.
De-clutter your car
Yes, we know we sound like your parents on this one, but having a car that doubles as a bin isn’t only gross, but it adds unnecessary weight and means you’ll use wasting money on petrol when driving it around.
Fuel efficiency is reduced by up to 2% for every extra 45kg you carry, so empty that boot and that backseat right now, ok?
If you’re an outdoorsy type with a roof rack, consider unscrewing it when it’s not in use, as even that can add to the weight your car is carrying.
Learn how to change gear properly
We know you’ve probably got the whole gear thing down on account of passing your driving test and all, but changing up sooner than feels natural will help cut your costs even more.
Don’t labour your engine. As a rough guide, try to stay under 3,000 revs and everything will be just dandy.
Get the cheapest petrol deals
Perhaps the most obvious way to cut down on costs is to make sure the petrol you buy is cheaper in the first place!
PetrolPrices.com is a free website that locates the cheapest car juice in your area, but obviously don’t drive too far out of your way to get a good deal, as this completely defeats the point.
Buying petrol at night or early in the morning is (apparently) also more cost-efficient. As these are colder times, the petrol in the pumps is denser and therefore you get more for your money.
You should also avoid filling up on main roads or motorways – price reviews have continually found these garages to be more expensive.
Some petrol stations will offer a range of deals and loyalty schemes. For example, Tesco often runs promotional offers whereby a certain spend in-store will get you a discount (usually 5p-ish per litre) at their petrol station.
All of the big fuel brands have loyalty cards too, so make sure to sign yourself up. While you shouldn’t go to a more expensive station just to use a loyalty card, it’s a good idea to have as many cards as you possibly can – they don’t cost a thing, and you never know when they might come in handy.
Make sure you’ve got the best insurance policy
As our complete guide to spending less on your car insurance will elaborate on, it’s really easy to end up in a situation where you’re paying out way too much.
For young people, it’s true that car insurance is notoriously expensive, but choosing an alternative policy like Pay as You Drive (PAYD) will knock hundreds off your payments.
Also, don’t forget to take out some decent student breakdown cover, otherwise you’ll be shelling out big bucks should disaster strike. Just make sure you thoroughly read both of our guides on these subjects before taking out any policies with insurers!
Don’t go into the red (or the top of the tank either)
For many student drivers, seeing how far you can get with your petrol gauge in the red is a useful skill to master. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not a great idea!
Driving with a small amount of fuel in the tank causes it to run out even quicker, and that’s never a good thing (let’s hope you have breakdown insurance!).
It can also cause damage to your car’s fuel pump, as it’s having to work far harder to suck petrol out of the tank and in the process can suck up bits of shrapnel and dirt.
Similarly, don’t fill your tank right up to the top if you can help it. Fuel is heavy, so the more you have the more you’ll burn. Stick to a half or three-quarter full tank and your car will run much more efficiently.
Mix it up with the A/C and windows
It’s the classic catch 22: using your air conditioning (if your car is flash enough to have it) can use up to 5% of your fuel. But equally, having your windows open will increase the drag on your car and do some serious harm to your fuel economy.
If you really can’t handle sweating it out, the best method is to use your AC when you’re driving at high speeds and open the windows at low speeds.
Claim for pothole damage
If you’ve been unlucky enough to experience damage to your car due to potholes in the road, don’t fret – you don’t have to lose your no-claims bonus to pay for this!
You’ll be owed compensation by whoever is responsible for maintaining the roads, which varies depending on where you are and how big the road is. This official government page tells you exactly who you need to contact to claim for your pothole damage.
If the pothole you hit is more than 40mm deep, you’re laughing; if it’s less than that, you can still claim but it might be a bit harder to fight your case.
Note that in order to get them to cough up the cash, you’ll need photographic proof of the pothole, plus written proof from a mechanic to show that the damage was definitely caused by a pothole.
Stop petrol evaporation
This is a depressing fact, but petrol can actually evaporate right out of the tank. Yep.
To prevent this from happening, ensure your petrol cap is screwed on tight. Also, park in the shade when possible as petrol evaporates quicker when warm. Bet you didn’t know that!
Avoid traffic jams
We’re sure avoiding traffic jams is something you probably do anyway, for your sanity more than anything else. But to add insult to injury, a small car stuck in a traffic jam can use up to a litre of petrol in 60 minutes!
Try to avoid congestion by planning ahead and avoiding rush hour times and busy roads (duh). You’ll sometimes find that using A and B roads will get you where you’re going faster as they’re more likely to be jam-free, and the lack of traffic means you’ll brake less and use your fuel more efficiently and save some money in the process.
If you do get stuck in a pickle and think you’ll be stationary for more than two minutes, turn the engine off.
Try car clubs
If you don’t need to drive regularly, then it’s definitely worth considering joining a car club instead of forking out cash to run your own wheels. You could even make some extra dough by renting out your private parking space!
Car clubs allow you to pay a membership fee in order to gain access to cars in your area, and you only cough up cash on a pay-as-you-drive basis. Co-Wheels, for instance, charges a minimum of £33.25 a day (or £4.75 an hour) for car hire in 24 university cities around the country.
If you’re planning a long-distance trip by car, it might be worth trying a car share scheme like Liftshare, where you can offer to drive others who are headed in the same direction in exchange for a fuel contribution, and vice versa.
If you do use your car daily to get to and from work or uni, why not do some research and find out if there’s someone else you know doing the same journey each day and offer to share petrol prices for a lift? It’s better for the environment, too!
Use alternative modes of transport
Nipping out in your motor for a few quick errands is a nice luxury, but continually warming up your car for short journeys drains petrol like you wouldn’t believe – plus it’s super bad for the planet!
Next time you need to pop out, try walking or taking a bus whenever it’s an option, or invest in a bike to get around on. It can also be a good excuse to get fit so is much better for your health – everyone wins!
Why not try investing in a bus pass for uni instead? And make sure you know how to get cheap train and coach tickets for those trips back home.