We spend a small fortune on our cars - most of it gone forever. Cars depreciate almost as soon as you sign the paperwork, cost money to operate every day you own them and in general bleed us white from the moment we first get behind the wheel.

So I got to thinking about ways to stem the hemorrhaging of cash on our cars - and the expenses associated with driving.

Here are a few things I came up with:

* Buy a radar detector -

This is a true "investment" (unlike your car) which can and usually will pay for itself - and then some - within the first year of ownership. The plain fact is almost all of us "speed" almost every time we drive - because most speed limits are deliberately set well below the normal, reasonable flow of traffic - precisely to ensnare as many of us as possible. This is why very few of us go more than five years without at least one ticket for "speeding." And that one ticket, by itself, can end up costing you more money than what you'd spend to buy a top-of-the-line radar detector like the Valentine V1.

If the radar detector saves you from getting pinched just two or three times over a three year period (the amount of time most state DMVs and insurance companies consider an offense "recent" - and hold it against you, in the form of "points" and higher insurance premiums) it will have saved you potentially hundreds of dollars. If the detector helps you avoid a single "major" speeding violation (in most states, anything more than 20 mph above the posted maximum - which in a 55 zone on a highway can be as little as 76 mph) your little friend will have saved you potentially thousands in lawyer fees, court costs and jacked-up insurance premiums.

* Think twice before you buy a 4WD (or AWD) vehicle -

Unless you use it more than a handful of times every year, which relatively few people who own such vehicles ever do. The auto industry has done an amazing PR job convincing suburban buyers they must have AWD or 4WD; that it makes the vehicle "safer" and all that. Mostly, this is flapdoodle. For one, truck-type 4WD is next to useless on paved roads unless those roads are covered with deep, unplowed snow. Truck-type 4WD is designed primarily for use on unpaved roads (uneven terrain) and can actually be damaged if used on dry, paved roads - especially in corners (due to axle bind). But most of us do in fact drive on dry, paved roads most of the time - and the rest of the time, 4WD is useless dead weight (and up-front expense). The truck-type system's 4WD Low range gearing (designed explicitly for off-roading) is even more useless for most SUV and pick-up owners - who venture "off road" as often as a politician tells the truth.

AWD (a passenger car layout that doesn't have Low range gearing, etc.) is better in terms of on-road usefulness as it does give a handling and traction advantage under all conditions. But a lot of that is theoretical (as in very high-speed cornering) and the truth of it is that an ordinary front-wheel-drive car with good all-season tires will usually tackle any road/condition short of a major blizzard very competently (assuming the driver is, also).

So, unless you live in rural Vermont or some such place, save some money up front (and down the road) and skip the 4WD/AWD.

* You probably don't need a V-8 (or even a V-6) -

Here's an interesting fact: The typical modern V-6 engine produces more power than most V-8s were making 20 years ago (around 230-260 horsepower) and the typical modern four-cylinder (many featuring the latest direct injection and variable valve/cam timing technology) makes as much or more power than most V-6s were making 20 years ago.

Today's V-8s are overkill - for the average driver. Consider the typical large luxury sedan (and the person who drives it). Does the typical 50-something man or woman (who likely never drives faster than 80 mph and even then, only briefly) really need a 400 hp V-8 and a potential 150 mph top speed? It's ridiculous. If someone replaced the V-8 with a V-6, they'd probably never even notice the difference. Except in terms of gas mileage - which would noticeably improve.

I love powerful V-8s but for everyday driving, for most people, a V-6 or even a four-cylinder is the smarter choice.

As a side example, I am a serious runner so I have serious (and seriously expensive) running shoes. But I don't wear these purpose-made running shoes for everyday walking around. That would be pointless - and expensive, since it would wear them out faster.

Bottom line: Around 200-230 hp is usually more than enough, in most passenger cars, for most day-to-day driving. Save yourself money and don't spend it on power you either don't need or can't make much use of even if you wanted to - thanks to traffic-choked roads and the constant threat of cops and speed traps.

* Extended warranty?

Often, not such a good idea - at least, in terms of your finances.

They're sold on the basis of "peace of mind" but what do you really get? Or rather, what do you lose? Extended warranties can cost thousands up front - money you are guaranteed to lose vs. a claim you may never make (and a repair you may never need). If the car never has a problem, you're still out the money you spent on the warranty - which means it's the same result, money-wise, as if you did have a major problem that cost as much to fix as you spent on the warranty.

If you think about it, you can enjoy the same "peace of mind" by putting aside the money you'd otherwise use to buy the extended warranty. If the car needs a repair, withdraw from your private kitty to cover it. No paperwork - and certainly no surprise "deductible" (which many extended warranties have). And if the car doesn't have a major problem, you will still have your money - every penny of it.

Yes, it's possible there could be a catastrophic failure, with a cost to fix that's higher than the cost of the warranty - in which case you'd be ahead if you bought the warranty. But the odds against this happening are stacked in your favor, despite the frightening scenarios that will be described by the guy trying to sell you the warranty (on which he will make a nice commission, don't forget).

The build quality/durability of modern cars - virtually all of them, irrespective of make or model - is better than it has ever been. Unless you're really unlucky and buy one of the few lemons, or an otherwise good car that had been abused previously, the chances of something big ticket like an engine or transmission failure happening are not very high. If you've carefully checked the car out before buying it, and listen to your Spider Sense when dealing with the seller/dealer, you'll probably end up with a car that never needs a major repair during the period of coverage offered by the extended warranty.

* Never buy a new car -

This is the single biggest - and simplest - thing you can do to keep money in your pocket. The only reason there is to buy a new car is to be the first person to drive it, or to be driving the "latest thing." Financially speaking, those are not very good reasons.

To enjoy that "new car smell" or to be the first person on your block to be driving the new whatever it is, you can expect to lose 20 percent of the price you paid for it during the first year of ownership in depreciation alone. On top of this there will be all the taxes associated with buying a new car (which can amount to hundreds, even thousands, depending on the purchase price/retail value of the vehicle) as well as mandatory full comprehensive insurance coverage (if the vehicle was financed) which in most areas of the country will be at least $1,000 annually (on the low side) and as much as two or three times that annually if you live in certain "high risk" areas or just have a few tickets on your DMV rap sheet.

Few people actually take the time to add up all these peripheral costs of new car ownership but they'd be very smart to do so.

Meanwhile, had you bought the identical (or similar) vehicle but two or three years older, you'd very likely have paid 30-40 percent less for it up front, far less in taxes and would probably have the option of lower-cost insurance coverage, too. We are talking thousands of dollars here - sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Not chump change. If you put that money to productive uses, such as real investments that actually create wealth rather than bleed it away, you will be in much better shape down the road than your neighbor who just had to drive the latest thing.

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