Martin Lewis: It’s time you had an economy drive

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Petrol prices are up, car insurance prices are up, breakdown costs are up – but don’t let it get you down. There are many ways to slash the cost of motoring. As we don’t get an annual bill for our car, the cost just comes in dribs and drabs, few people focus on it – even though that bill would likely be thousands. This means the savings can be huge.

The drastic action is to do what I’ve done, and get rid of your car altogether. Though to be fair, for me that’s because I try to walk everywhere as I’m addicted to hitting my 20,000 steps a day target. 

So let me show you five easy ways to put the brakes on your vehicular costs. 

1. Don’t overpay on breakdown cover

Roadside recovery policies are especially important right now at the coldest point of year. Back-up in case your car fails is important, especially if you rely on it for work or the kids.

Most people stick with the big names, but if you’re willing to shift away from them you can make large savings. A year of cover at www.autoaidbreakdown.co.uk costs £48 –not much more than the basic policies with the big firms – and it includes home start and onward travel and includes cover for you and your spouse (including civil partners) at no extra cost. Call-out times are said to be roughly similar too.

If you are with the big firms, and want to stay that way, then the golden rule when it comes to renewal is to haggle. The success rates of those who try are incredible: in my most recent poll on it 87 per cent of RAC and 90 per cent of AA customers who tried succeed. Like Schmuli who tweeted me, “Quite amazing after calling @TheRAC_UK who charged me £277 for a breakdown cover, they brought the price down (for the exact cover) to £124 for an ‘Introductory offer’ to an existing customer! @MartinSLewis”

So if you don’t ask for a discount you’re effectively being fined for apathy. If they won’t reduce the price get put through to “disconnections” who often have much more power to offer knocked down prices.

Alternatively if you just want a basic AA or RAC policy, new customers buying through cashback sites www.topcashback.co.uk or www.Quidco.com can effectively reduce the price to as little as £20 a year after cashback (it changes daily). So if you were to alternate AA one year and the RAC next, you can play this out.

2. Find the cheapest fuel

To find the cheapest petrol and diesel near you in seconds, use the nifty tool on www.petrolprices.com. Create a free account, enter your postcode and select how far you’re willing to travel to a forecourt (5, 10 or 25 miles) – the difference between best and worst can be huge. For example, in Birmingham it ranges from 114.7per litre to 137.9 per litre for unleaded petrol within a five mile radius – a difference of almost 20 per cent. Even just cutting the cost by 5 per cent saves someone who puts £50 in their tank a week £130 a year.

It’s also worth checking whether supermarkets are giving out discounts if you spend over a certain amount.

3. Drive efficiently and save

How you drive is the biggest single factor affecting your fuel costs, and in extreme cases people find they can save 30 per cent when they change their driving habits. Accelerate gradually without over-revving (think of the accelerator as a money pump)

Change up a gear earlier than feels natural, this keeps the revs and the cost down

Think about your road position, so you can keep moving rather than stopping and starting.

Slow naturally where safe instead of hitting the brakes (braking late is just burning money you’ve spent to make your car accelerate)

Listen to your car – if you hear sharp acceleration and screeching brakes, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Free Halfords winter car check

Halfords.com is offering a free £15 winter car check, which includes checks to your battery, bulbs, wiper blades, oil and screen wash levels. There’s no need to book in advance, though you can do so online if you want, and the check should take about 15 minutes. There is no obligation to buy anything, but be prepared that staff might try to upsell to you. The winter car check is on until spring. It’s usually free so the £15 price tag is a little bit of an irrelevance, but it is still a good service for nowt.

5. Two or more cars at home? Check multi-car

Never auto renew car insurance, especially now as prices could be rising. Instead my normal solution is check you’ve the right cover (don’t assume third party is cheaper), and search by combining the right comparison sites – see my full guide at www.moneysavingexpert.com/carinsurance.

You should also add in www.directline.com and www.aviva.co.uk which the comparison sites don’t include.

For those with more than one car, one option many miss is a multi-car policy. It can be a big winner for some, as Clare told me on Facebook: “Switched to multi-car and saved £700 – couldn’t believe it.” Yet it is financial Marmite, a winner for some, loser for others.

In fact insurers tend to do cheap prices in the first year, then walk-up the prices each year after that.  My rough rule of thumb is if you’ve got a multi-car policy, check standalone insurers first. If you’ve got standalone, check multi-car first.

Many don’t think to look at multi-car because renewal dates aren’t close (as 84 per cent didn’t in a recent poll I did). However, three multi-car insurers – www.admiral.com, www.lv.com and Aviva let you set up a policy at your first car’s renewal, while the other car(s) stay with their existing insurer until their renewal. They give you an “annual equivalent price”, as if all the vehicles were insured for a full year, to help you compare to standalone policies. It’s worth looking (though obviously if there’s a big gap between renewals, the cost of the first car before the second joins is key too).

Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/
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