Pain at the pump begins to change habits - East Valley Tribune: Business

Pain at the pump begins to change habits

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Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:18 pm | Updated: 10:20 pm, Tue Apr 5, 2011.

Driver interest in saving fuel is rising along with the price of gas, which has hit $4 a gallon in some places, and is expected to head still higher by summer.

A new car is arguably the most radical cure to gas price shock, and even that takes some careful homework. A gas-electric Prius or an all-electric Nissan Leaf will enable you to thumb your nose at gas pumps, but there are other things to consider.

TrueCar.com last month released a study on the 10 most fuel-efficient cars sold in the United States. The Prius, with a combined city/highway fuel mileage rating of 49.6 miles per gallon topped the list.

With an average purchase price of $22,235, a 2011 Prius driven a typical city/highway mix of 15,000 miles a year would require 302 gallons of gas. At $3.52 a gallon, that would be an annual fuel bill of $1,063. If gas were $5 a gallon, the annual bill would be $1,510.

Yet the ninth most fuel-efficient car, a four-cylinder, gas-fueled Hyundai Elantra, is the better deal economically, by TrueCar's reckoning.

The average purchase price of a base 2011 Elantra is only $15,052, yet it costs only $531 more to fill up annually with a combined city/highway fuel mileage rating of 33.1 mpg over 15,000 miles. Based on $5-a-gallon gas, the Elantra's annual fuel bill would be slightly more than $2,250 based on 453 gallons used.

"When purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle, consumers should consider two factors -- price and annual cost of fuel," said TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak. "If you're looking for the most fuel-efficient car, the Toyota Prius wins. If you're looking for the most cost-effective and fuel-efficient car, the Hyundai Elantra is the clear winner."

Obviously, if you drive far more than 15,000 miles a year, the cost-effective gap narrows.

If you want to pay zero for gas by getting Nissan's new, all-electric Leaf hatchback consider it has a range of about 100 miles before needing a recharge.

If you drive it around town, the Leaf is a smart choice. If you make a lot of long road trips, not so much.

Beyond hybrids and all-electrics, an increasing number of domestic and foreign cars are high-mileage, traditional gas-fueled vehicles, a byproduct of 2008 gas prices and government mandates for higher-mileage automaker fleets.

"The 40 mpg club is getting a whole lot bigger in the U.S. at just the right time, when gasoline is regularly topping $4 per gallon in many parts of the country," noted Scott Doggett, an associate editor of Edmunds.com. "These cars are great choices for consumers who want better fuel economy but aren't ready to make the switch to hybrid or electric vehicles."

But what if you're not in the market for a new car?

Automotive analysts point out that many Americans opted to purchase a gas-saving vehicle amid the super-high gas prices of 2008, and their recession-wrecked pocketbooks don't allow for yet another purchase.

For these motorists, saving gas and stretching every drop is key.

Gas-saving is a perpetual pursuit and can be practiced every day: lighten up on accelerations, slow down just 5 miles per hour on the highway, make sure your tires are properly inflated and combine multiple errands into one outing, to name just a few.

No matter how one saves, there's little doubt that gas prices are fixed in the minds of many Americans.

A recent study by the Consumer Federation of America showed that 84 percent of families with incomes of $25,000 to $75,000 were greatly concerned about gas prices.

"Low- and middle-income Americans are now spending more money each month on gasoline than on their car payments," said Stephen Brobeck, the federation's executive director.

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