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Buying a more fuel-efficient car

Whether you drive a car, truck, minivan or sports utility vehicle, choosing a more fuel-efficient model can go a long way in cutting your costs. You don't have to go hybrid to cash in on the savings, although it certainly helps. Hybrid cars, which combine a gasoline engine with a battery-powered electric motor, suck up less gas and spit out less pollution than conventional cars. Hybrid cars are the most fuel-efficient vehicles available today.

"You will get better fuel economy with a hybrid than you will with any other vehicle," says Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal.

With fuel prices soaring above $2 -- and in some places $3 -- all over the country, it's easy to see why hybrid cars such as the mid-sized Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight, a sleek two-seater, and a hybrid version of the popular Honda Civic are in hot demand.

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The Prius gets an estimated 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 miles per gallon on the highway. The Insight delivers an estimated 61 miles per gallon in the city and 66 miles per gallon on the highway. And the Honda Civic hybrid gets an estimated 45 miles per gallon in the city and 51 miles per gallon on the highway.

What drives your transportation needs?
As impressive as these mileage stats may be, there's much more to consider when buying a car.

"If you have four children, it doesn't really matter what gas mileage it gets, you've got to be able to get all the kids in the car at once," says Brian Moody, road test editor at Edmunds.com.

Before crunching the mileage numbers and estimating your fuel cost savings, think long and hard about your transportation needs.

Do you need a car to commute to and from work or do you need a second car for quick errands around town? Or are you looking for a vehicle that you can pile the whole family into on a regular basis?

How many passengers are likely to be in the vehicle for the majority of your driving trips?

Will a passenger car, sports utility vehicle, minivan or van best serve your driving needs? Which class of vehicle suits your sense of style? Which models fit your budget? What model do you flat-out like the best?

An automobile is the second-largest purchase most Americans ever make. You'd better enjoy what you drive.

"We're in them every day," Cogan says. "Why would we buy something we wouldn't feel good being in? At the showroom it has to speak to you."

Steer clear of sweet talk by inappropriate cars
Just make sure that the car that speaks to you in the showroom really makes sense for your family. It's best to car shop based on the majority of your driving needs, not your occasional ones.

Do you really need to buy a full-sized pickup truck for twice-a-year trips to Home Depot? Does that monster sports utility vehicle you bought for your occasional ski vacation make sense for your around-town driving?

You could spare yourself countless trips to the gas station by buying a fuel-efficient vehicle for your day-to-day driving needs and renting a larger vehicle for special occasions.

"Go rent a Suburban or something," Cogan says. "Buy what you need most of the time.


-- Updated: April 20, 2005



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