Daily Driving on the Cheap

Have come across quite a few articles on this subject recently, obviously because of our poor economy and how flipping expensive fuel is, so I thought I’d put my 10 cents/pence in.

You can do budget motoring in a number of ways, and the potential savings can be massive. And it doesn’t all revolve around trading in the Jag for a shopping cart of some description, (come on, you know me better than that!).

So here’s my top tips:

Note: Am half way through writing this and realised it’s going to be a looooooong post, as there’s so many things to discuss, so what I’m going to do is break it up a bit and approach this from one angle here, and do a couple more posts in the next few weeks, such as how to drive a prestige car on the cheap, or what to do about financing, so if you think I’ve missed something, bear with me, OK back to the post…

Don’t buy new, or nearly new. Ever.

This is just crazy, as everyone knows as soon as you drive it off the forecourt it’s worth less, never mind putting any reasonable mileage on it.  Here’s a daft example: the new Aston V12 Vantage, £130,000 to start with before options. Quick look at autotrader.co.uk – 3 yrs old, same model £40,000 less. Stretch that a bit more, and get the previous V12 model the Vanquish and you could be looking to save twice that.

In a nutshell, the older the car, the less it will depreciate, and if you buy a classic, it may even appreciate, pays for itself, woohoo!

Or you could go completely the other way. Your ordinary, everyday cars like fords/renaults/peugeots etc. are effectively worthless when they get past 10-12 years old. £500 will now get you into a 10 year old car.

And that’s not half as bad a risk as you might at first think. With care, you CAN buy cheap and still get reliability.

Can you have your Jag and eat it? I think so…

Pretty much all cars from 2000 onwards were galvanised. What’s that? Well it’s something Porsche originally did to their cars back in the 70’s and it basically makes steel rustproof. Don’t believe me? Go to autotrader and check the length of the corrosion warranty on any french car you fancy, and you’ll find it’s TWELVE YEARS. Now think back to how many rust buckets you see on the road these days. Not half as many as there used to be, that’s for sure.

And a similar thing has happened with engines.

The McLaren F1 was launched in 1991 with “nikasil” cylinder linings. This was a hard  wearing, low friction coating, that increased the performance of the engine. Nowadays even lowly Ford Zetec engines have this, and it’s been widely reported that if looked after, some of these engines look barely run in even after 100,000 miles. Look after an engine and you can see stellar miles out of a modern one.

So, looking after an engine is an important part of making sure your jalopnik doesn’t drain your wallet…

Learn to fix stuff yourself if you can: Main dealers charge a ridiculous amount of money for labour. Ford and Renault are 2 very common makes and you can easily end up paying them £70/hour. And I tell you what, if all that money went to the mechanics that actually did the work, they’d be on nearly £150,000 a year, but they’re not are they? They’ll be lucky if they earn £25,000, so where does the rest of your dosh go?

Example: A friend recently had an oil and filter change done by his dealer on his BMW. This cost him over £240, for 2 hours labour (shouldn’t be that long surely?) at £90/hr, and a little over £60 for the oil and filters. Using a motorfactor, you could probably get the exact same oil and parts, or similar with the same spec for half that, and doing it yourself will cost you 30 minutes of your own time. Total cost £30.

The other thing to consider is that a set of spanners works just as well on a BMW or something more prestige, as they do on a Ford, and many procedures are no more complicated either.

If you can’t do all that, find an independent garage and make friends with them. My garage mate charges me £40/hr for the big jobs I can’t be bothered with, and lets me take along my own parts too.

Back to engines though – There’s basically only 2 things you need to worry about.

  1. Oil
  2. Coolant

As is often said, oil is the lifeblood of your car. It forms a lubricating layer between the various pieces of metal that make up the engine. The wear happens when the oil film doesn’t work for one reason or another. A common example of this is at startup when most of the oil is at the bottom of the sump instead of covering all the moving bits. This is when the majority of “normal” wear takes place, and there are things you can do to reduce even this type of wear:

If you have to leave your car standing for a while, start the engine and run it for a bit at regular intervals. This does 2 things – it protects seals from drying out and ageing, and it means there will still be at least some oil in the uppermost reaches of the engine next time you start it.

Use the correct manufacturer approved oil and change it frequently. Example: 10W40 and is quite a common oil. The 10W figure indicates the viscosity of the oil when it is cold. Many retailers recommend 10W40 or even 15W40 for my car, but Renault recommend 5W40. This means the viscosity when cold is lower, i.e. the oil is more runny, so it can get round the engine quicker than a 10W or 15W when you first start up. The oil I now use is Mobil’s 0W40, and it makes a remarkable difference on my 120,000 mile asthmatic turdo-wheeze-el (I dread to think how much more lethargic and how much more wear would take place if I listened to the retailers). For performance cars, don’t use your full revs until the engine is properly up to temperature when the oil works best.

On an old car, looking after the cooling system is very important. It’s the number one source of breakdowns, and expensive bills. The prime thing to worry about is the head gasket. As this gets old it’s strength can diminish, but being firmly sandwiched between the engine block and cylinder head it can stay intact for years to come provided those 2 lumps of metal don’t warp or lift from each other, and this often happens when a car overheats, so going out of your way to prevent that is good sense.

Things to do (preventative measures).

  • Use proper coolant. Plain water is much more corrosive and doesn’t lubricate the water pump properly
  • Renew the coolant. Old coolant is not as good at keeping the system clean and clear of blockages
  • Fill the coolant system to the Max level, and check regularly. This gives you a safety margin if you develop a leak
  • If you get a leak, investigate it and get it fixed ASAP, it’ll only get worse, perhaps rapidly
  • When rubber piping begins to perish, replace it ASAP – it’s a breakdown waiting to happen

When buying, always get a car with 12 months *MoT or thereabouts.

This gives you the option of Disposable Motoring – providing nothing drastic goes wrong, you could potentially spend £0.00 on servicing, drive this vehicle into the ground and then simply buy another car with 12 months MoT the following year, if it fails the test, and carry on from there. Secondly, MoT certificates now helpfully come with “advisory notes” telling you what’s on the way out and needs doing before next year’s test.

Treat Corrosion.

One of the first things I do when I buy an older car, is get underneath it straight away and treat the rusty bits. It’s not hard work, but it is mucky 🙂

Yes I know what I said earlier about galvanising, but some manufacturers have previously been a little lax (Jaguar X-type anyone?) and only galvanised the bits you normally see, like the wings, and not parts of the chassis underneath, so it’s worth inspecting the underside of the car.

If you see any corrosion (likely), it’s easy to get hold of some anti-rust treatment like waxoyl or similar. With stuff like this, you don’t always need to do the tedious job of removing the rust first either, so slather it on generously and that should stave off the dreaded tin worm for a few years.

If there are chassis members with drainage holes in, or other enclosed sections, it’s a good idea to get as much waxoyl in there as you can as well. Rust REALLY takes well on the enclosed bits you can’t see as it doesn’t get sandblasted away, or covered in grease and oil from the road, so you don’t know about it until it’s too late.

In the pic above, you can see rust just starting to take hold. This is the ideal time to apply a treatment. There’s still sufficient metal left to provide a sturdy and safe structure which is ideally how we want to keep it.

So far, all I’ve talked about is getting your hands on a cheap car and making sure it lasts, so now a bit about cutting the costs of running it.


Find your local motor factor, (search google for “motor factor”, or ask a local mechanic). Motor factors are usually independent parts places that local garages will use to get bits for their customer’s cars at prices much better than any dealer will offer. If you don’t know one end of a spanner from another, and your local garage does all your work for you, you should still buy and supply them with parts yourself as then there’s no mark up to pay for. They usually have much better prices than retail chains  like Halfords as well. For instance, I never pay more than £30 for even the best engine oil, whereas Halfords may charge £50 upwards for the same stuff. Partswise, they also have the experience to advise you what cars are currently cheap to buy parts for, although they’re likely to say “Ford” (because it’s always Ford isn’t it?).

The internet is also a wonderful place to buy stuff. I have often repaired exhaust systems with 2 spanners, 10 minutes of effort and a £40 internet part, which KwikFit and the like would charge nearly £200 for. If you’ve never done anything like this yourself before, exhausts are quite easy and there’s nothing mechanical about them. They are simply tubes bolted together. It’s a good way to start learning about fixing stuff. Alternatively, buy the part cheaply and get some one to fit it.


On the side of your tyres there is a maximum pressure which is usually significantly higher than the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Pumping up your tyres a few more PSI will make them harder and deform less, which is good for economy. Don’t be tempted to buy part worn tyres though, click here to find out why.

Budget tyres are pretty much a no no. Although they are often made from a harder rubber, they grip much less than decent branded tyres, meaning the car will slide around on them more easily, which funnily enough leads to faster wear, nevermind the safety aspect. Always get decent tyres.

Branded Tyres. By this I don’t necessarily mean the most expensive tyres. Brands like Avon and Falken are usually far cheaper than the equivalent Bridgestone or Continentals but often perform just as well wet or dry, and you don’t pay such a premium for the name.

Energy Saving Tyres. I’m looking into this at the moment having bought a set of michelin energy savers, see my previous post about that here. Having fitted these all round, we are now getting an additional 5 mpg on top of the 50 we were getting before, but they were initially an expensive lay out, so I’m waiting to see if they are better value than cheaper “normal” tyres, but so far it’s looking good. One set have clocked up 20,000 miles now and still have a bit of life left in them.

Buying tyres on the cheap. I’ve pretty much covered most of this here. There’s one thing I’ve missed though. Working in a relatively large town, there are 4 or more major tyre depots within a couple of miles of my office. Like many retailers with local competition, each depot often has deals on, 4 for the price of 3 etc. so at any one time, at least one of these depots has a half decent offer on to take advantage of.

Lastly, Driving: Older cars with plenty of mileage have seen a lot of life. If you want them to see a lot more, it pays to be gentle and drive them with mechanical sympathy. Remember, this is about saving money not performance (I’ll deal with performance on the cheap in another post…). Look at your driving habits and change them if need be.

A very lazy example – I can’t actually believe people do this, but it seems very common. At traffic lights on a slight incline, some people will ride the clutch rather than use the brakes or the handbrake. I have no idea why, it’s really not that hard and the amount of life you must be choking out of that clutch, plus the cost of replacement, surely it’s just not worth it?

Take it easy on the gears. The better you treat them, the longer they’ll last. Whipping the gearstick round the box, and slamming it home without dipping the clutch properly can put huge strain on the transmission even at reasonably speeds.

Through 2 decades of driving I’ve often been in a position where I didn’t really have the money to run a car, so I bought them with a view to using the “disposable” method as mentioned. However, putting into practice some or all of the above, a few of these “disposable” cars have actually ended up giving me several years of useful service. The great thing is, the older I get, the better built modern cars seem to be!

*What’s an MoT? In the UK, (like many countries), all the cars on the road have to have a valid mandatory safety certificate which lasts for a year. They are issued by the Ministry of Transport, hence the term MoT, or MoT  certificate.

This entry was published on September 18, 2012 at 6:46 pm. It’s filed under Driving, Fuel Efficiency, Maintenance, Tyres and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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