Trimming the costs of automobile ownership

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Driving is a way of life for many people left with little choice but to keep a vehicle. Thanks to mass transportation, city dwellers might be able to get by without owning a vehicle, but those who live in rural communities or even the suburbs often find that public transportation runs too infrequently or inefficiently to meet their needs. There are ways for those who need their own automobiles to reduce the financial burden of vehicle ownership.

* Downsize your vehicle. In its study, AAA found that the average cost of owning a vehicle varied considerably depending on the size of that vehicle. That should come as no surprise, as larger vehicles tend to consume more fuel and, as a result, cost more money. But drivers might be surprised to learn just how much less it costs to own a small sedan than it does a four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle.

Small sedans cost the least amount of money to own at $6,967 annually, while four-wheel-drive SUVs cost nearly twice that amount, setting their owners back $11,599 per year. But the most surprising thing from the AAA study might be its findings as to the costs of owing a large sedan. Such vehicles are nearly as expensive as larger SUVs, costing drivers more than $11,000 per year. So drivers who downsize their vehicles to a small sedan will likely save themselves a substantial amount of money over the life of the vehicle.

* Drive safe and cash in on lower insurance premiums. Though numerous factors, including individuals’ driving histories, influence the cost of auto insurance, drivers with clean track records might be able to buck the industry trend and pay less for their auto insurance policy next year than they did this year. In its study, AAA found that the cost of insurance rose by nearly 3 percent in 2012 from the year before. But drivers who can avoid accidents and citations are likely to see their rates decrease from year to year.

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* Buy a used car. Buying a used car may not give buyers the initial excitement of driving off a car lot behind the wheel of a brand new vehicle, but it might prove quite exciting for your bank account. Revisiting a study they conducted in 2001, in 2013 experts at automotive Web site Edmunds.com examined three different financing methods and the cost of each over a six-year period, which the global market intelligence firm Polk estimates is the average car ownership period.

The study examined the costs, including interest rates and fees, of leasing or buying a 2013 Honda Accord EX and buying a used 2010 Accord EX. The total cost of buying used after six years was $20,960, while the cost of leasing was $24,768 and the cost of buying new was $28,330. Buying used even saves buyers money when factoring in equity. Of course, leasing saves drivers the cost of maintenance and repairs, which can be considerable when buying used vehicles. However, an older used car won’t cost as muchto insure as a vehicle that is being leased or financed.

* Drive less. Of course, the easiest way for automobile owners to trim the costs of owning their vehicles is to drive less. Though vehicle manufacturers have improved fuel economy in recent years, driving less will save money on fuel, the cost of which hinges on a host of factors, including petroleum demand and economic conditions. Such factors may cause a dip in fuel prices one day, but a sharp increase in price the next day. Regardless of those fluctuations in fuel prices, drivers who can cut back on their driving are certain to save money.

The cost of vehicle ownership is on the rise. But motorists who rely on their vehicles can still find ways to save money.

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