Cash-strapped motorists cut corners on car expenditure

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The Independent Online

The recession has forced motorists to hang on to their old cars for longer and drive more economically to reduce their bills, according to a survey by Halfords, the car maintenance and bicycle specialist.

In the past three years, the number of vehicles aged 10 years or more that customers are taking into Halfords Autocentres, the group's car servicing division, has jumped by 36 per cent. For vehicles more than 15 years old, the figure has increased by 22 per cent. In total, 22.4 per cent of cars serviced at Halfords are more than 10 years old.

As well as putting off the major expense of buying a new car, motorists have also changed the way they drive in an attempt to trim costs.

According to Halfords, nine out of 10 owners said they had taken action to reduce motoring bills and 62 per cent were driving more slowly and taking more care.

Garel Rhys, a professor at Cardiff Business School's Centre for Automotive Industry Research, said: "The consumer is showing great adeptness in trying to save money, whilst at the same time using the car as much as before."

Evidence from the commercial vehicle operating industry suggested that driving more efficiently could save motorists between 9 per cent and 16 per cent on fuel costs, Mr Rhys added. Given the current high cost of petrol, this could deliver "big savings" of £10 to £16 per tank-full, he said.

In a more extreme form of penny-pinching, motors are gambling that they can reach their destination, or reach a garage selling cheaper petrol, when their tanks is registering nearly empty. A worrying high 22 per cent admit that they "regularly" keep driving when their fuel gauge is close to empty, which results in nearly 43 cars a day coming to a "juddering halt", often in the fast lane of a motorway.

Indeed, while 80 per cent of those surveyed recognised that proper car servicing improved a vehicle's fuel efficiency, some people said they were cutting back on servicing their car.

Mr Rhys said: "Not servicing your car is a false economy. I've noticed that people are opting for cheaper options." The survey's findings appear to support comments made by Lookers, the automotive retailer and distributor, earlier this month. It said the total market for new cars contracted by 7.1 per cent to 1.03 million vehicles in the six months to 30 June, while the new car retail market fell by 18.1 per cent.