Car Costs You Can (and Should) Avoid

The best expenses are those you can skip. Here are several ways to save money you don’t have to spend on your car:

*”Premium” gasoline –

I italicize the word for a reason. It’s a marketing trick. “Premium” implies better. But Premium gas is defined by something else — its octane rating. Octane is a measure of a fuel’s burn rate or — put another way — its susceptibility to ignition (combustion) as a consequence of pressure and heat (rather than spark). High octane gas is more resistant to ignition from pressure and heat; this is important in a high-compression/high-performance engine. You do not want the gas to explode before the spark ignites it. If it does ignite prematurely, the force of the resultant uncontrolled explosion tries to push the piston — which is still traveling upward — back down, placing enormous stress on the piston, the connecting rod and — ultimately — the crankshaft. This is not good for your engine.

And it’s why it’s very important to use high-octane fuel in engines built to burn high-octane fuel.

But if your engine was not built to burn high-octane fuel, you are wasting money by purchasing high-octane gas. There is no advantage and several disadvantages. You don’t risk mechanical damage, but you will see reduced mileage and performance — because the premium (high octane) fuel’s burn rate isn’t in tune with the engine’s design. It will run less efficiently.

Read your owner’s manual (or the label that’s typically affixed to the inside of the fuel door) and use the grade of gas recommended by the engineers who designed your car’s engine. They made these recommendations for a reason. Don’t waste money on octane you don’t need — and “premium” that isn’t.

*Larger wheels (and tires) –

One of the most economically and functionally idiotic trends in vehicle design over the past twenty or so years is the mania for big wheels and tires.

Maybe you like the way it looks, but you might want to take into account what it costs.
First, opting for 18 or 19 (or 20) inch wheels usually adds significantly to the car’s purchase price. That’s the obvious one. But adding upsized “rims” also adds rolling resistance. Your car’s mileage goes down.

The cost of tires also goes up. The difference in price between a 16 inch (standard) and an 18-inch tire can be tremendous, especially if the 18-inch tire is a “summer” or “performance” tire. These also tend to wear out faster because the rubber they’re made of is softer. Road noise goes up — and ride quality goes down.

They’re usually terrible in the snow, too.

And, for what?

While it’s true the larger (performance) wheel/tire package can increase the vehicle’s high-speed handling capabilities, you ought to ask yourself whether your abilities as a driver are higher than the baseline tires’ capabilities. Some people like to think they are Bob Bondurant. Few actually drive like Bob Bondurant. And even if you are capable, do you actually drive that way on the street?

Save yourself some money on tires and gas (and brake pads, which wear faster due to the increased rolling resistance of oversize wheels and tires). Enjoy a nicer/quieter ride.

Skip the “rims” — unless looks matter more to you than dollars (and sense).

*Satellite radio –

Why pay for what you can get for free?

Most new cars and many cars built within the past five years or so have Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Most people have a cellphone or iPod, also having Bluetooth wireless. These devices have apps like Pandora and Stitcher. These are free apps that give you basically the same thing — and in some ways — a better thing — than SiriusXM satellite radio. You can create your own “station” — tailored to your specific tastes — and stream the music into the car via your device.

With Sirius/XM, you take what they give you. The “90s” channel… but not the ’90s music you like. Maybe ’90s music you don’t like.

Granted, a monthly Sirius/XM subscription (about $15) isn’t a huge expense.

But free music is no expense.

*Power seats/lift gates and side doors –

If you’re handicapped or just lazy, powered seats, sliding doors and lift gates (minivans and crossover SUVs) may be necessary — or an indulgence. But if you’re not physically handicapped and looking to save some money, skip the power-actuated stuff.

You’ll save money — and weight (which saves fuel).

And hassle.

Powered seats/door sliders and lift gates sound like a convenience, but — for “safety” — they operate at a glacial pace. You could manually open and close the gate several times in the time it takes for the slow-motion actuators to do it automatically.

Even worse, some hit you with obnoxious ding! ding! ding! chimes as they sloooowly raise and shut…

But even if you don’t mind that, you ought to take into consideration the cost to replace the electric motors/actuators when they eventually fail. Which they inevitably will.

Also, the money you’re wasting on fuel as a result of all that added weight.

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