If you were to ask my siblings to rank my knowledge of mechanical things on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being no knowledge and 10 being an expert), they would tell you that the depth and degree of my knowledge of mechanical things would “hover” around negative 5.
The truth is I know more than they think I know about cars, electricity, plumbing, and other everyday things.
Until just a few years ago, they were convinced that I thought there was such a thing as a left-handed screwdriver!
One of those areas that I’ve learned about over the past several years is the ins and outs of how service stations seem to operate.
That said, let’s put the pedal to the metal and look at some simple ways that you can begin to manage money like a minister the next time you make a visit to your local Service station:
Do your homework about a station or a mechanic.
Ask family, friends, and neighbors who they take their car to when things are not just right. Similarly, ask people who drive the same kind of car as you where they go.
Not all people that operate stations are mechanics.
The reason that most stations are more profitable and experience fewer headaches is that they realize that selling beer, bread, and bubble gum is better than repairing ball joints, bulbs, and bearings. It all boils down to two aspects: volume and overhead.
Avoid buying those big-ticket items at service stations.
Just as you should not buy tires at a service station because the markup is usually horrendous, the same stands true for grocery items like a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread.
If you can avoid it, don’t buy a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, or those regular grocery items because it’s the same thing…high markup.
You come in to pay for the gas, and then you think to yourself, “Hey, I’m thirsty.” So, you go and buy a soda that costs $1.39 there and 99 cents at the Food Lion next door.
As you stand in line, you think to yourself, “Hey, I need some chips to go with my soda.” So, you grab a bag of chips that normally cost you $1.29 at Kroger but you’ll be paying $1.59 for them here.
Finally, you need some dessert, so you grab a Snickers bar. Forget about buying the smaller, 79 cent size. The station only has the jumbo bar that costs twice as much and can feed a small army!
Bottom line: buy what you absolutely, positively need at the service station and get the rest some other place.
Do your transaction at the pump.
Why? See above. If you don’t go inside, you won’t be tempted to buy things that you don’t need or can wait until later like those white, Styrofoam coolers that cost $5.99 at the service station and half that at WalMart.
Shop around for gas.
I have found that gas prices at stations that are located near interstates can be several cents more a gallon than stations located at that same exit but a mile or less down the road.
Don’t go driving around to find the least expensive gas, though, you’ll only use up the savings that you may have earned by going to that station down the road.
Instead, watch for signs as you near the exit of the interstate.
They’ll tell you what’s around and how far it is off the exit. Around town, the best advice for getting the least expensive gas is to go online or pay attention as you drive.
Don’t even think about applying for or using a (gas) company card.
The interest rates that companies charge on gas cards may far exceed the rate on some of your highest credit cards. Be late or miss one payment and your rate may surely increase.
Do as I do: use the gas company cards sparingly, pay the bill immediately after it arrives, and, by all means, do not charge repairs or parts on the card unless you’re going to pay them by the due time.
Yes, it’s OK to use your personal credit card, especially if you can get points and pay the bill on time, but use that gas company card in moderation.
When you can do the small maintenance things, then do it yourself.
On several occasions, I have changed my own oil and replaced bulbs, batteries, and filters.
Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, I did it myself!
Other times, I have let the service station do it.
Hey, I do what I can to keep the economy going and job losses to a minimum. If you want to learn how to do it, first read up on it via a reference book from the library or online.
Then, you may want to consider signing up to be a part of a course at the local college or technical school on basic car maintenance.
When you’re ready, I recommend that you then ask someone to come and supervise as you do it the first few times.
As well, it doesn’t take the skills of a rocket scientist to check the coolant/anti-freeze in the radiator and fill if needed; make sure the tires are inflated to the right pressure; make sure the brake fluid is filled; hoses and belts are void of holes or cracks, for cracks on the blades of your windshield wipers.
Watch for coupons in the mail and newspapers, and remember a trade school may be nearby.
Again, businesses want your business, and one of the ways to do that is by offering a discount (coupons) for certain services.
Caveat emptor: be sure to read the small print in the ad completely because some stations will offer some astronomically-low price for an oil change.
However, they fail to tell you that the price is for “labor only” and does not include parts such as oil and oil filters.
If you have a dent or need brakes or a tune-up, check to see if there is a local trade school in your area.
As with any trade school, the work is usually done by novices but they are supervised by well-trained and quite knowledgeable teachers.
Fight the temptation to get your car washed each time you fill-up.
At the local places around my town, the cost to wash a car at the same place it’s filled-up with gas varies anywhere from $5.00 to $8.00.
If I wash my car every time I fill it up with gas (which is about once a week) and pay for the best option (the one with wax and under-spray), I could end up paying well over $400.00 a year for car washes alone!
If you are the kind of person that washes your car each week, then I recommend that you wash your car at home because it’s a lot less expensive.
However, if you live in an area where the weather dictates that salt or other agents are spread on the road to help improve driving conditions, then, by all means, get those car washes as often you feel you need them.
Compose a schedule for regular maintenance.
Keep a log of what’s been done and when it was done, and try to follow the owner’s manual.
Volvo owners are notorious for this. We know when the oil was changed last when the brakes were changed last, and so on.
Your regular mechanic should have your car’s records on a database, but just in case, it is good for you to keep one as well.
Change your habits.
Finally, you can always improve the bottom line on car expenses by changing driving habits.
No rabbit starts, using the cruise control on the open road, removing unwanted and unnecessary items from your trunk, not allowing your car to sit and idle for prolonged periods of time. Also, consider driving a car that costs less to operate, using mass transportation, carpooling, biking, or walking.
All of these help to reduce your expenses. Driving a more financially efficient car means driving one that saves you money because it takes less to operate it on a daily basis or to repair.
Many times, mass transportation costs less, gets us there faster, and with less hassle (especially if we have to find a parking place).
With carpooling, it’s a flat fee and many costs are shared. As for biking and walking, we’re not only getting physically fit but we’re also doing our part for the environment, cutting down on traffic congestion, and (possibly) reducing auto insurance rates by doing less driving.
If you ever meet my three brothers and two sisters, go along with their not-so-glowing comments about my lack of knowledge of how things work.
After all, I have an image to keep up. In the meantime, drop me a note and let me know what other areas I can help you become a better money manager.
After all, we have 25 letters of the alphabet yet to go!