How much do your car expenses add up? Well, consider that in 2011, the National Association of REALTORS® estimated real estate professionals cumulatively drive 3.6 billion miles a year. The average practitioner drives nearly twice as much as the average American, and the median annual business expense for using a car was $1,680 in 2010. (Given fluctuations in gas prices, inflation, and more, that’s likely to be higher today.)
You’ll want to be doubly diligent about getting the most out of your miles. A little savings here and there can make a big difference throughout the year. Though companies and associations do research on tactics to lower car expenses, a lot of what we know comes from the federal government. Here are some money guzzling driving habits you should correct.
Bad for Mileage
When we’re loading the car up or slamming on the accelerator to make it to an appointment on time, we don’t think about how it drains our fuel—and puts more pressure on our pocketbooks. Pay attention to these factors:
- Low tire pressure. “When tires aren’t inflated properly, it’s like driving with the parking brake on, and that can cost a mile or two per gallon,” according to a Forbes.com article on increasing gas mileage. “You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure.”
- Extra weight. When you host weekend open houses, you’ll be loading your car with heavy materials such as yard signs. Don’t keep them stored in the trunk between events. “Even an extra 100 pounds could reduce your mileage by 2 percent,” says Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council in Bethesda, Md. “If it’s not being used, remove cargo and put it back the next weekend.” Also, be careful not to travel long distances with large cargo boxes on the roof of your car, which can reduce fuel economy by 2 to 8 percent in city driving, 6 to 17 percent on the highway, and 10 to 25 percent at interstate speeds (65 mph to 75 mph), according to FuelEconomy.gov, a consumer information website maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Dirty filters. Along with the oil filter, check both the engine and cabin air filters. Replace the one in your engine every nine months or 9,000 miles, White says. That can save as much as 14 percent in gas mileage. “I’m always surprised at how filthy mine is,” says Paul Smith, a sales associate at RE/MAX Town Center in Potomac, Md. Smith buys multiple filters and swaps them out himself.
- Aggressive driving. Edmunds.com, a car review site, ran tests and found that accelerating and braking slowly—rather than revving up the engine too fast—over long distances improves fuel economy an average of 31 percent. “If you slowed your 0-to-60-mph acceleration time down from 10 seconds to a more normal city pace of 15 seconds, you’ll feel the savings immediately,” according to Edmunds.
- Speedy driving. Edmunds test-drove 50 miles at 65 mph and then at 75 mph. The site discovered that driving at the lower speed led to an average 12 percent boost in fuel economy. Aisjah Flynn, a sales associate with Five College, REALTORS®, in Amherst, Mass., says she takes care to keep her speeds down, including when making turns. “It’s expensive to fix the car, especially the brakes,” she notes. “If you use them too hard, the pads wear out.”
- Ease off the brakes. If you drive a hybrid, gentle stopping pays off. “This allows the regenerative braking system to recover energy from the vehicle’s forward motion and store it as electricity,” according to FuelEconomy.gov.
- Long idles. It’s surprising how idling even for a short time will eat into your mileage. “Turn off your engine when your vehicle is parked,” advises FuelEconomy.gov. “It only takes about 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart your vehicle.”
Good for Fuel Costs
Mileage isn’t everything. Even if you can’t avoid some of the issues that may constrict your miles per gallon, consider these tips at the gas pump to spend less on fuel.
- Find cheaper gas prices closer to home. Going out of your way—like to the suburbs if you live in a major city—to get lower gas prices can be counterproductive, experts say. But consider mobile apps to find the cheapest gas prices on your route. CNN Money rated popular apps such as GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Dash, and Mapquest Gas Prices.
- Use lower octane. At the pump, “some cars with high compression engines, such as sports cars and certain luxury cars, need mid-grade or premium gasoline to prevent knocking,” according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. If your owner’s manual doesn’t recommend it, though, don’t pay for it. You need higher octane only if your engine “knocks” or makes “a rattling or pinging sound” without it.
- Check the gas cap. A loose or damaged gas cap can let gas evaporate, White says, and trigger the dashboard light. “It’s fairly common,” he says, “so much so that it’s one of our top 10 fuel-saving tips.”
- Rotate tires. AAA explains that “tires on the front and the rear of vehicles operate at different loads and perform different steering and braking functions, resulting in unequal wear patterns.” And more even wear makes them last longer, says Smith, echoing many experts. “With front-wheel drive, the front wheels wear faster, so you get more use out of your tires” by rotating them regularly, he adds. “At the end of the day, all real estate professionals are in business for themselves. Those costs come out of our pockets.”