Sure, Costco is best-known as the land of bulk groceries, but consumers who focus solely on food could be missing some sweet deals when it comes to their cars. That's right: Costco may be able to save you money on everything from auto maintenance and gas to car buying itself. Read on to discover how to get more mileage out of your membership.
Filling up at Costco is one easy way for members to save. Costco averaged nearly 20 cents cheaper than its competitors in 2015, according to GasBuddy, an app that helps consumers find the cheapest gas. It topped GasBuddy's Low Price Awards list four years in a row. But don't assume you'll be paying bottom dollar at Costco's pumps. Double-check price comparison apps such as GasBuddy, and don't forget to consider grocery stores' gas bonus programs. Kroger, for instance, gives customers roughly 10 cents off each gallon at Kroger and certain Shell gas stations for every $100 spent and doubles fuel points for gift-card purchases.
Costco has partnered with Ameriprise to offer member-only discounts on home and auto insurance. According to Ameriprise, roughly 300,000 Costco members have taken advantage, and members reported saving more than $542 on car insurance their first year after switching. Executive members receive more benefits, including roadside assistance and lifetime policy renewability. The savings depend on several factors, including the type of car, driving record, and demographics such as age, location, and marital status. Competing companies may offer other price breaks that make more sense for your situation, so check with other insurers, too.
Costco members who book rental cars through Costco Travel can benefit from member-exclusive discounts and coupons with four major car rental companies: Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. Another fringe benefit: One additional-driver fee is waived in the United States and Canada (Alamo and Enterprise) or within the country only (Avis and Budget). This can be a substantial savings if you need a second driver. Alamo, for instance, charges an average of $12 a day.
Of course, it still makes sense to compare rates with a search engine such as Kayak, especially since Costco's discount doesn't extend to all brands. Significant savings can be found with smaller, lesser-known companies. But for members looking to use a nationally known company, discounts are available.
Costco may even be able to save you some cash next time you're in the market for a new set of wheels. The Costco Auto Program offers fixed member pricing on both new and pre-owned vehicles at 3,000 dealerships nationwide. The warehouse club sold 465,000 vehicles through the program in 2015.
While Costco is able to leverage its sizeable customer base to arrange low prices with participating dealers, it's unlikely to deliver the very best price on any given vehicle. Buyers who are willing to shop around and negotiate, negotiate, negotiate will probably nab a better deal, especially if they have a trade-in or special financing concerns. Still, the program is worth a look for anyone who feels a little queasy when they step onto a car lot and might be willing to trade a great deal for a good one to smooth the car-buying experience.
Even if you bypass the Costco Auto Program when you're in the market for another car, you can still take advantage of another of the program's perks: Costco members get 15 percent off parts, labor, and accessories at the 3,000-plus dealerships that partner with Costco. The discount isn't good on oil changes, tires, and airbags, however, and savings are capped at $500.
While selection is hit and miss, Costco often has some enviable deals on car seats. For instance, a recent visit revealed the Graco 4Ever, which converts from an infant seat all the way up to a booster, for $200 compared with $300 at Buy Buy Baby and Target, or $260 on Amazon. Parents of older kids can save on the Evenflo RightFit booster, which was $70 at Costco and $90 at Buy Buy Baby and Target. Finally, the Safety 1st Multifit 3-in-1 is a Costco exclusive for $100 that can accommodate babies as small as 5 pounds and kids as heavy as 100 pounds.
Members typically get a full 36-month warranty on Costco-purchased batteries, but a recent visit to Costco found that number had jumped to 42 months. Costco sells only Interstate brand batteries, which generally score well in expert testing. Prices are solid, too: For instance, an Interstate 51R-500 battery that would fit a 2015 Honda Accord was $73 on a recent Costco visit; a similar Everstart Maxx battery sold by Walmart was about $107, and an AutoCraft battery from Advance Auto Parts was $125.
Of course, you can also find tires at Costco, and lots of them. The warehouse club sells brands including Michelin and Bridgestone's Ecopia and Dueler lines. Whether you'll save, of course, depends on the kind you'll need, but Costco typically offers competitive deals on installation: It was runner-up in Cheapism's analysis of the best chains for tire installation. Its $15-a-tire package includes mounting, new rubber valve stems, and nitrogen inflation. Costco also throws in free lifetime rotations, balancing, inflation checks, and flat repairs and a road-hazard warranty.
If you're tired of hearing your groceries or other cargo slide around in the trunk, Costco might be a good place to look for organizers that can be toted from the car to the house and back again. Available in-store recently:
- Smart Design pop-up organizer: $12 vs. $15 or more for similar products on Amazon
- Rubbermaid mobile double cargo bin: $20 for a two-pack vs. $17 for one from Amazon or Target
- InstaCrate collapsible 12-gallon bin: $8 vs. $20 and up for similar bins selling on Amazon
Do-it-yourselfers can skip the local auto-lube joint by stocking up on oil and other fluids at Costco. Recent deals include $40 for a three-pack of Chevron Delo 400 15W-40 heavy-duty motor oil, or $13.33 a gallon; compare that with $19 for a gallon at Advance Auto Parts. Twelve quarts of Formula Shell SAE 10W-30 motor oil were selling for $38 at Costco, or $3.16 a quart, while five quarts were $22 at Pep Boys, or $4.40 a quart. It's worth noting that Costco isn't always cheaper, though -- Walmart had better deals on Mobil 1 oil.
A couple of other notable Costco wins:
- Chevron Techron fuel system cleaner: $20 for six 16-ounce bottles (21 cents an ounce) vs. $3.34 for a 12-ounce bottle (28 cents an ounce) on Amazon
- WD-40 lubricant with an EZ-Reach flexible straw: $11 for two 14.4-ounce bottles (38 cents an ounce) vs. $7.88 for one bottle (55 cents an ounce) at Home Depot
Anyone who babies their car can save a little by buying products that will keep it looking and smelling good at Costco. One example for people who like to shine their cars: Kirkland Signature microfiber towels: $16 for 36 (44 cents a towel) vs. $14 for 24 similar Microtex microfiber cleaning towels (58 cents a towel) at Walmart.
Some other good bets:
- Scott shop towels: $15.39 for 10 rolls ($1.53 a roll) vs. $6 for three rolls ($2 a roll) at Home Depot
- Febreze car air freshener clips: $6 for a four-pack ($1.50 a clip) vs. $5.20 for two clips ($2.60 a clip) at Walmart
- Goodyear Hybrid wiper blades: $8 in all sizes ranging from 16 to 28 inches