Owning a car is expensive, but not everyone can ditch their four wheels in favour of public transport or their own steam. Thankfully, our research has shown there are plenty of ways for you to bring your motoring costs down.
If you’re spending more on your car each month than you’d like to, making small changes can still have a big impact.
Below, we’ve rounded up four ways you can lower your expenses, plus report the extra charges you need to watch out for. We also reveal how much more you can save if you can swap to an electric car.
Only cars that excel in our tough lab and road tests make it onto our expert pick of the best cars for 2021.
1. Find cheaper fuel
If you want to ease the pressure on your bank balance, make sure you’re buying the cheapest petrol or diesel available.
We suggest ditching so-called ‘premium’ fuels. You’re only likely to benefit from super unleaded, for example, if you have a very high performance car.
Filling up with your weekly supermarket shop can often be cheaper than using an oil company’s own forecourt. Last year, we investigated the price of petrol. We found that if you fill up at a supermarket forecourt, compared with other forecourts, you could cut your fuel costs*:
- Honda CR-V owners could save £63 a year
- VW Golf owners could save £50 a year
- Honda Jazz owners could save £50 a year
If you collect reward points from Sainsbury’s and Tesco, you could lower your costs further. Clubcard and Nectar holders can also earn points at most Esso stations.
Worried about supermarket petrol quality? Don’t be. All unleaded fuel sold in the UK conforms to the same British Standards.
You may also need: Fresh tyres
Driving on underinflated tyres will cause drag, which reduces fuel efficiency and causes them to wear out faster. Check your car’s handbook for details on the ideal tyre pressure. When shopping for a new set, using a nationwide fitter rather than a main dealer could help you reduce costs. You may also want to buy your tyres online and get them installed by a local garage.
2. Go electric
If you’re looking for a new car, picking the right one could deliver the biggest savings. You need to think about whether you really need that thirsty SUV – and whether it’s time to go electric.
To see how much you could save with an electric vehicle, we compared running costs for a medium to large SUV driving 9,000 miles a year. As our table below shows, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) – provided you regularly charge it – or a fully electric vehicle (EV) can deliver big savings.
If you drive an EV, there’s certainly no harm in shopping around for a cheaper electricity tariff – our own comparison site, Which? Switch, will help you compare electricity suppliers.
When using public electric car charge points, make sure you plan ahead so you don’t always need to hunt for the very quickest chargers – slower chargers can be cheaper or even free (such as in the case of Pod Point 7-22kW chargers at some supermarkets). Just make sure you avoid firms that charge by the minute.
Going electric means you won’t have to pay any road tax. And as of April 2020, electric cars are no longer liable for the expensive car supplement either – buyers of other cars, including plug-in hybrids, have to pay more if their vehicle costs more than £40,000.
Some local authorities also offer free and discounted parking permits for free and low-emission vehicles.
Our tough lab and road tests will help you choose the right EV for your budget – see our expert pick of the best electric cars.
You may also need: A wallbox charger
You can charge an EV or PHEV from a wall socket, but it could take 25 hours or longer. Getting a wallbox charger can more than halve that. The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme is a grant covering 75% of the cost, up to £350; you get the grant through your installer.
3. Choose your breakdown provider wisely
The results of the latest Which? car survey revealed that most vehicle breakdowns (37%) happen at home.
Unfortunately, breakdown providers are well aware that you’re more likely to need their help on your own doorstep – that’s why most basic packages don’t include at-home breakdown cover.
In fact, of the seven breakdown providers included in a recent Which? investigation into the cheapest car breakdown plans, there’s only one provider whose lowest tier of cover helps you out at home.
If you’re forced to upgrade from a basic policy to one that covers you at home, your annual payment will rise by up by 48% on average.
Make sure your policy has what you need for a price that’s right – see our expert guide on how to buy the best breakdown cover.
4. Don’t be loyal to your insurer
With car insurance costing £468 a year on average, according to the Association of British Insurers, it’s a driving expense that can’t be ignored.
Rather than automatically renewing, try to shop around. Even if you’re reluctant to switch, having cheaper quotes to hand can help you haggle with your current insurer.
You can use comparison sites, but also get quotes from insurers that aren’t on them.
You can reduce your premium by buying insurance a few weeks before cover begins, paying annually rather than monthly or by removing unnecessary add-ons from your policy. If you live in a multi-car or multi-generational household, look into multi-car policies and adding named drivers.
Electric car owners can also benefit, as their average insurance costs are typically £45 cheaper than petrol and diesel cars.
We surveyed thousands of car insurance customers who have recently made a claim so we can reveal the best and worst car insurance.
Extra costs to watch out for
- Tolls and charges Check local tolls as some, such as the London Congestion Charge, have increased in recent years. You may be treated to a discount if you’re in an EV, but some of these discounts are due to end and could be changed at short notice. The London exemption for EVs ends in 2025.
- Unreliable cars Before you buy a new motor, make sure you know which are the most reliable cars. Our last car survey quizzed more than 47,000 motorists on their vehicles, which will help you avoid buying a car that’s prone to breakdowns. You may also want to arrange a pre-purchase inspection before investing in a new vehicle. If you know roughly what work needs to be done, websites such as clickmechanic.com and rac.co.uk/approvedgarages can obtain quotes from local garages and mobile mechanic services.
- DVLA scams Be extremely cautious of emails, texts or calls purporting to come from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) asking for your details. Fraudsters’ tactics include claiming you owe unpaid tax, need to update your details, or are due a refund. Sign up to our free Which? scam alert service to make sure you don’t get caught out.
* (Based on the average annual mileage (9,000 miles) from our UK general public survey, and respondents’ preferred models of car.)