(BPT) - For most of us, driving is a necessity, and so is doing it as cost-effectively as possible - even in retirement when most of us stay in our suburban homes. Saving money on automobile-related expenses like gas and insurance can help free up cash for other important things.
Fortunately, many tactics can help you minimize vehicle costs, from doing basic maintenance tasks yourself to taking a driver safety course that could qualify you for insurance discounts. The driving experts at AARP recommend drivers 50 and older focus on three key areas of opportunity for cost-reduction:
Older drivers have lower rates of police-reported crashes per capita, limit their driving to familiar routes and better weather, and drive fewer miles than other age groups, but accident rates per mile start increasing when drivers reach 70, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Even if your personal driving record is clean, your age may put you in a demographic that insurance companies view as higher risk - and you'll pay higher auto insurance premiums because of it.
Shopping around for auto insurance may help you secure a better rate, but if you're facing very high premiums, it may make sense to take an extra step. Many insurers offer discounts to drivers who complete driver safety courses. Check with your insurance company to see if such a discount is available to you, then look for a program, like AARP Driver Safety's course, that is specifically designed to help people 50 and older refresh their driving skills and adapt to age-related changes. There are no tests to take for the course. To find an in-person course near you, visit www.aarp.org/findacourse, or sign up for an online course.
After insurance, fuel can be one of the highest costs of operating a vehicle, especially for those who travel far, such as older drivers commuting from winter to summer residences. Car makers have improved overall fuel efficiency for many newer vehicles, but you can take steps to cut your gas costs more - even if you have an older car.
AARP offers these tips for improving fuel efficiency:
* Lighten the load. The heavier your vehicle and contents, the more gas it will consume moving down the road. Remove excess weight from the trunk and avoid traveling with luggage or bike racks that create drag, add weight and decrease fuel economy.
* Watch your speed. While it's important to safely keep pace with the flow of traffic around you, keep in mind most cars are at the optimum fuel efficiency around 50 mph.
* Drive smoothly. Abrupt stops and starts, and fast, erratic movements in traffic all decrease fuel economy.
* Try to consolidate trips. Rather than making one trip to the grocery store today, then the doctor's office tomorrow and your book club the next day, try to group errands together. Starting a cold engine consumes more gas than keeping it running longer.
With the average age of cars on the road approaching 11 years, according to R.L. Polk & Co., an automotive market research firm, routine maintenance is more important than ever. Doing simple tasks like oil changes, windshield wiper replacement and air filter changes yourself can help save you money.
Tasks that you can easily perform yourself include:
* Changing the oil and oil filter.
* Changing the air filter.
* Monitoring tire inflation and adding air if needed.
* Checking and cleaning battery connections.
* Replacing worn windshield wipers.
* Replacing headlight or brake light bulbs.
Other DIY tasks, like replacing brake pads or sparkplugs, or flushing the radiator, require a bit more know-how. Fortunately, plenty of online resources offer step-by-step guides for doing more complex vehicle maintenance tasks. And, you can always check with your local community college to see if they offer a basic auto maintenance course.