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How to reduce the cost of driving

By LAURA T. COFFEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

In Florida, it's an almost unavoidable fact of life: You need a car to survive. Almost unavoidable fact No. 2: It's expensive to own and maintain a vehicle. To help keep costs down, consider these tips.

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1. Used is beautiful. If you're in the market for a car, you can save thousands of dollars by choosing a used vehicle. Not only will the sale price be lower, so will your sales tax and insurance premiums.

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2. Save on fuel costs. Opt for a four-cylinder engine over a V6, or for a V6 over a V8, to get better fuel economy. Smaller, lighter cars also use less gasoline. You can compare models at www.fueleconomy.gov, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

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3. Hunt for insurance bargains. Some insurers will ask you to pay double what you must, so shop around. Also, increase your deductibles, and think about dropping collision and comprehensive coverage once those premiums hit 10 percent of the car's book value.

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4. Start keeping track. For a couple of months, jot down what you're spending on driving -- gasoline, maintenance, parking, tolls and other expenses -- and tally the costs. By seeing where your money's going, you may quickly spot ways to save.

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5. Avoid lengthy idles. Idling burns more gasoline than restarting the engine, so turn off the engine if you expect to wait for 30 seconds or longer. Rather than idling at a drive-through window for several minutes, park the car and go inside.

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6. Lose some weight. Removing unnecessary and often bulky items from the trunk can increase your gas mileage. You also can reduce drag by removing items from roof racks and keeping your windows closed when you drive on the highway.

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7. Don't fall for high-octane hype. Most cars run smoothly on regular-grade gasoline. You won't get better acceleration or fuel economy if you use premium fuel in a car that runs just fine on regular.

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8. Seek out inexpensive fuel and oil. Shop around for off-brand gasoline and promotional deals at quick-lube shops. Check your owner's manual to see how often your car's oil needs to be changed. For most vehicles, it's once every 7,500 miles. (Yes, 7,500 miles, not 3,000.)

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9. Routine isn't always the same. When it's time to have routine maintenance done on your car, call several businesses to find the best price. Independent shops tend to charge less than dealerships. Keep all records and receipts.

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10. Keep your tires properly inflated. If you don't, the tires will need more energy to roll, which will add to your gasoline bill. Also, be sure to get periodic wheel alignments.

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-- Sources: Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov)

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