Thursday, June 26, 2008

Simple Steps to $1000

Saving money by saving gas is a hot topic these days. It seems like every other story on automotive news sites is about hybrid, electric or fuel-cell vehicles. And the rest are about ways to save gas with the car you have. But how much can you really save? Yahoo Finance tried to find out.

They looked at typical car numbers - 22 mpg and 15,000 miles per year - and applied a series of hypermiling and other recommended techniques to figure out how much you can save. Amazingly, if you do everything on their list (and honestly, a few things are just silly), you might be able to knock $1,000 off of your yearly gas bill. That's a lot of dough!

Now, as I said, a few of the items don't make much sense. Yeah, I'm sure it would help if you lost 100 pounds, but if you need to lose that much weight, I think saving money on gas is pretty low on your reasons to do so. They also recommend getting an oil change every 3,000 miles to save $27, or about the cost of one oil change. Well, with most cars and oils, you can easily go 5,000 miles (or more if you use synthetics). At 5,000 miles instead of 3,000, you'll need two fewer oil changes per year, saving you even more money.

But back to the good ideas - the top two are key for me. I've been known to keep that Check Engine light on way longer than I should. I never really thought about how a failed sensor might affect my gas mileage. The air pressure item is amazing. Granted, I don't know what their baseline is (and that's actually a problem with all of these numbers), but if keeping your tires at the correct pressure can save over $500 a year, I need to be better about that. I have a few tires that seem perpetually low, so I bet I can really help my fuel efficiency by being more prompt in filling those up.

Lastly, it should be noted that if you really want to improve your gas mileage, you need to start tracking your gas mileage. Otherwise, how will you know if it's working? And how should you track your gas mileage? BrightCar, of course! ;-)

Friday, June 13, 2008

RepairPal Can Be Your Buddy

Have you ever had the feeling that you were being screwed by your mechanic? That he was charging you way too much for service? Of course you have. We've all felt that way - lots of times. The problem is that consumers have a huge information deficit. We don't know how much repairs should cost so we have to take the word of the guy who is giving you the estimate. Sure, you could get a competing offer, but in most cases that's not practical. Who has time to go driving all over town getting quotes? And what if your car isn't drivable?

Enter RepairPal. The folks at RepairPal collected a ton of historical repair data, sliced it and diced it with the help of a couple of dozen mechanics and can now give you an estimate for your repair. You tell them what make/model/year vehicle you have, your zip code and what service you need and they'll give you a range that you should expect to pay. It really is impressive and could conceivably save you hundreds of dollars.

What might be cool is to take your service history (you use BrightCar to track that, right?) and see if you've been getting fair prices. I'm definitely going to do that and see if I need to change repair shops!

You can find two nice reviews of RepairPal (which just launched this week) at TechCrunch and Wired.