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Published June 26, 2011, 12:00 AM

Savvy Consumer: A few steps can cut down car costs

It costs the average car owner about $4,225 per year to own an auto, including maintenance, repairs, insurance and ever-spiking gas prices.

By: Good Housekeeping Reports, INFORUM

It costs the average car owner about $4,225 per year to own an auto, including maintenance, repairs, insurance and ever-spiking gas prices. Short of riding a bike around town, what else can be done to tame the expense? Lots. Here are six smart strategies that will put you on the road to major savings.

Find gas for less

These days, it’s easy to drain your debit card while you fill your tank. Prices had climbed steeply to a national average of $3.95 per gallon at press time, so finding a bargain is vital. One terrific tool is the website gasbuddy.com – or download the free phone app, which is handy on the road.

Another option: AAA’s TripTik Mobile free phone app (available to all, not just AAA members), which pinpoints stations and prices so you can comparison shop.

Consider the pumps at Costco, too, an unlikely but often pricewise source (hence the long lines).

Stop getting ripped off on repairs

Service fees can range from a manageable $37 (for a Jiffy Lube oil change, done in about 20 minutes) to a painful $155 or more for hourly labor charges, depending on the provider.

Dealers, especially high-end ones, charge the most. If your dealer suggests a pricy repair, log on to automd.com (a car-repair pricing resource) for an estimate based on car model, part, labor and ZIP code. One reader found a difference of $200.

“That kind of price discrepancy isn’t unusual,” says Shane Evangelist, president of automd.com. Dealers usually charge more, he says, partly because they have pricier, high-tech diagnostic equipment and factory-trained technicians.

Your best defense against budget-busting charges is to do your research before you take your car in for repairs. Call around for estimates; plug in your ZIP code at automd.com for a fast, free list of local shops to check with.

Deflate your insurance bill

Zero in on your state’s auto-insurance discounts. They range from an anti-lock brake discount (5 percent off your liability premium in New York state) to a good-student discount (available nationally for young drivers with a current grade average of B or higher).

Search for auto-insurance discounts at statefarm.com for a listing by state. Then go to third-party search engines to compare quotes and target the best deal; two good bets are autoinsurance.com and carinsurancerates.com.

More wallet-friendly tips: Merge car and home insurance at the same company – called “bundling”; consider increasing your deductible; and guard your good driving record.

Beware of rock-bottom-price promises from car dealers

Go ahead, be skeptical when you see mailings and TV ads for 0 percent financing when you buy a car or convert a lease. These lowball pitches are often bait-and-switch tactics – unless you have a golden credit record.

To find out how likely you are to qualify, go to annualcreditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228 to request a free copy of your credit report under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. That way, you can see the same data the dealer will use and gauge how big a bargaining chip you have.

Also, shop around for the best interest rate before leasing or buying. Compare rates at the dealer, bank and credit union; the last will often have the lowest.

On another matter...

Polish your jewelry the good (enough) way! You easily can shine up gold and gemstone baubles without using any elbow grease. Just fill a small dish with unflavored sodium-free seltzer and a drop of dish soap, then plop in your valuables. The bubbling action of the soda plus the foaming of the soap will bring out the sparkle – no scrubbing required. What not to try this with: pearls, turquoise, silver or costume jewelry.

Recalls alert

The following products and vehicles were recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Unless otherwise indicated, discontinue use of the products immediately and return them to the store where purchased for a refund. For more information about the products, call the manufacturer or CPSC’s toll-free hotline, (800) 638-2772. Only some cars or trucks recalled are affected. Contact a dealer for your model to see if it is included in the recall. The dealer will tell you what to do.

  • Hewlett-Packard Lithium-ion batteries: Used in HP and Compaq notebook computers (select models), sold at computer and electronics stores nationwide, hp.com and hpshopping.com from July 2007 through July 2008 for $500 to $3,000.

    The recalled batteries can overheat and rupture, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers. Consumers should immediately remove the batteries from their notebook computer and contact HP to determine if their battery is included in this recall. Consumers with recalled batteries will receive a free replacement battery. For more information, visit hp.com/support/batteryreplacement.

  • 2001-04 Audi A6; 2003 Audi RS6; 2002-’03 Audi S6: The aging of the plastic material in the fuel tank rollover valve combined with the bending stress from the aluminum ventilation line to the rollover valve nipple may lead to cracking of the nipple. If this happens, a fuel leak may result. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source could lead to a vehicle fire. Dealers will reinforce the nipple on the rollover valve to prevent leakage or repair the cracking at the nipple. For more information, call Audi at (800) 822-2834.

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