En español | Americans love driving — and pay dearly for it. In 2010 it cost more than $8,500 to drive a midsize sedan 15,000 miles, according to the American Automobile Association, which factored in gasoline, maintenance, insurance, and depreciation. Car expenses run second only to housing costs in the United States, and they are getting no cheaper: Compact used cars sell for almost 17 percent more than they did in summer 2010, reveals the Manheim used-car price index.
See also: More tips to cut car and gas costs.
But there's good news: New technology and old-fashioned common sense can transform your driving lifestyle and cut your costs in half, or more. Here's how.
Learn to Share
Typically touted as a transportation alternative for the young and the carless, a car-sharing service that rents vehicles by the hour or day makes sense for older drivers, too — especially those who can combine it with biking, walking, and mass transit. Market leader Zipcar operates in 15 metropolitan areas and on more than 230 college campuses, and rental giant Hertz recently launched a similar program, Hertz on Demand. About 12 percent of Zipcar's 605,000 members are over 50 — among them, retired financial manager Patricia Hogan, 74, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her annual car costs are now about $1,400 a year, less than half of what she once spent to keep her old Toyota on the road. "I love driving, but I wouldn't own another car for all the tea in China," says Hogan.
If you own a car that sits all day, you can put it to work by joining a peer-to-peer car-share service such as RelayRides or Getaround; they allow members to rent vehicles from one another. And if you haven't done it since grade school, reconsider carpooling. Dr. David Rizzo, a 60-year-old Los Angeles podiatrist and transportation expert known as Dr. Roadmap, calls it "the best possible way to immediately cut your driving costs in half." Alternating drivers saves gas (one rider doubles your passenger miles per gallon*) and reduces vehicle wear. To help set up a pool, websites Carpool Connect and eRide Share let users leave messages and find commuters seeking rides. Or try GoLoco, a carpoolers' social media site that sends alerts when friends (or friends of friends) are heading places they want to go.
Rizzo, alas, can't follow his own advice: He averages 100 miles a day seeing patients around Los Angeles. For solo drivers, route planning is key. Instead of multiple short hops, pack several trips into one longer errand, and drive to your farthest destination first (that also gets the engine warm, so it runs most efficiently). To plan an itinerary, smartphone users can use the free app Maps + Compass; to monitor traffic, download the app Aha, which gives real-time road info. To find cheap gas, preview prices online at GasBuddy or GasPriceWatch.