Should You Buy A More Efficient Car?


When gas prices pass the four-dollar-per-gallon mark the collective American consciousness seems to wonder about ditching their large cars for something small and efficient. Never mind the counter-point that we seem to run out and buy more SUVs and pickups the minute gas drops again, the cold hard truth is that prices will ultimately keep rising and that stretches everyone’s budget. The idea of spending less at the pump and still going farther is very enticing. So should you buy a more efficient car?

If you want to use less gas, the answer is yes. But if you want to save money, the answer is probably no.

Buying a more efficient car only makes sense if you are already, currently, in the market for a car. Most of us are more concerned about our monthly total budget than just our monthly gas budget and that’s where the equation gets tricky.

Take the <a href="http://everydaydriver.com/reviews/chevrolet-volt/">Chevrolet Volt</a>, an impressive car that can run entirely on electricity for about thirty miles before getting average mileage from its gasoline motor. If your commute is less than thirty miles round trip you could conceivably own a Volt and never use a drop of gasoline. While that will obviously save you at the pump, the Volt is a $40,000 car.

Be advised, this will now involve math.

Let’s say you own your car, you drive 1,200 miles a month, and it only gets 20mpg. At $4 a gallon you’ll spend about $240 a month in gasoline. That’s about half the monthly car payment for a new $40,000 car. And of course, the better the MPG of your current car, the more this equation works in favor of your clunker. The gas cost might hurt, but not as badly as your budget will suffer from buying a new car in a quest to “save”.

The problem is clouded by the fact that we stand a gas pump and watch money go down a drain into our gas tank. It feels very real and painful. But depending upon what you buy, it’s very easy to spend more per month on a more efficient new car.

For those really wanting to save money on car-ownership the answer is to buy a more efficient used car for the same or less than your current car is worth. If you sold a pickup and bought a Honda fit for the same price you will see instant savings in your monthly budget.

Of course, you might not want to sell your pickup. Maybe you need a pickup. The only thing worse than spending too much on gas is climbing into a car that you don’t like or doesn’t meet your needs.

Meanwhile, new CAFE/MPG standards have forced automakers to squeeze more efficiency out of the old fashioned gas-burning engine. Funky little runabouts like the <a href="http://everydaydriver.com/reviews/hyundai-veloster/">Hyundai Veloster</a> are now getting 40mpg, and AWD SUVs are getting close to 30mpg. When compared with the Volt, which gets 30mpg when it isn’t running on electric, or the Prius which gets 50mpg, the savings with new technology might not be worth the cost of early adaptation.

Interestingly, many of the early adopters have seen these general increases and decided hybrids might not be worth the trouble. A <a href="http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/10/11101762-hybrid-owners-unlikely-to-buy-another-one-study-shows?lite" target="_blank">recent report</a> shows that only 30 percent of current hybrid owners say they would buy another hybrid. Most will buy a normal gasoline engined vehicle for their next car.

Eventually we will all buy another car. Thankfully, current changes mean your next car will be more efficient than our current transportation. But remember that MPG is just one number in the car ownership equation, so run the monthly numbers to figure out when your budget will benefit from a change. Don’t be scared by the constantly changing gas-station numbers. And the Awarning is this: If you buy a car just to be efficient you’ve likely lost the love of driving. Cars are expensive no matter what you do, so buy a car you actually like and want.

Are you in the market for a new car? Do you have a minimum MPG requirement for your next vehicle? Tell us below!


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