When Will Gas Prices Push Us Into New Cars?

Posted: Apr 23, 2008 10:02 a.m.

Gas prices are pushing consumers to consider buying new, more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to two recent surveys.

Kicking Tires today posts the results of a cars.com survey of more than 1,000 drivers.  The survey showed that many people are already considering a more fuel-efficient vehicle, and as gas prices rise, car buyers' sense of urgency rises with it.  Fifty-six percent of respondents said that if a gallon of gas remains at its current price (around $3.50 to $3.75 a gallon), they would look for a higher mpg rating the next time they were car shopping, but 10 percent said they plan to buy a more fuel efficient car "right away."  Those numbers would rise slightly if gas prices rose to between $3.75 and $4.  At that level, "63 percent said they would buy a more efficient car, 16 percent would buy that car right away."  However, "The big jump comes when gas hits from $4 to $4.25," when 28 percent of respondents would look for a more fuel-efficient ride immediately.  Past $4.25, 39 percent would shop. 

Many experts are predicting $4/gallon by the end of summer, and a few locales have already seen it.

The cars.com numbers are similar to what Kelley Blue Book found in its latest Marketing Research Study.  In a Press Release on the survey, which is conducted monthly, KBB explained, “nearly 60 percent of vehicle shoppers say gas prices have changed their minds or strongly influenced their purchase decisions.” In fact, 43 percent of those surveyed “indicated they would seriously consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle if gas prices were to swell an additional 25 cents above” the level they were at the day the survey was conducted in late March.  That price, according to KBB, was $3.27 per gallon.   

Monday, AAA announced, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline nationwide hit a record $3.50.

So far this year, the numbers seem to hold up. The auto industry has responded by increasing research into alternative fuels and ways to boost fuel-efficiency.  Consumers have responded with a change in their car-buying habits. Small, fuel-efficient cars are the only growing segment of the automotive market, while large, fuel-inefficient SUVs are clogging used-car lots.

Research the most fuel-efficient small cars with U.S. News' car rankings and reviews.