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Gas prices prompt shift in car-buying strategy

Three dollar-a-gallon gas has a lot of people thinking about what they're driving and what they should be driving.
Alternative Fuel Sources Gain In Popularity
A potential hybrid car buyer test drives a Toyota Prius in this file photo. As gas prices keep rising, motorists increasingly are considering hybrid and diesel cars, a Consumer Reports survey finds.David Paul Morris / Getty Images file
/ Source: news services

As average gasoline prices across the nation continue to edge toward $3 a gallon, motorists are taking a close look at the vehicles they drive ... and what would be more economical.

The latest Consumer Reports Auto Pulse Survey finds 37 percent of consumers say gasoline prices are so high they are looking at replacing their current vehicles with more fuel-efficient ones — mainly hybrid models.

Of those who say they may replace their vehicles, 50 percent are considering gasoline-electric hybrids. Another 38 percent say they're considering either flexible-fuel vehicles or diesel vehicles. Hybrids currently make up just one percent of total new-car sales.

Even if they are not considering a hybrid, many consumers are looking to downsize. More than half of those planning to replace their cars say they're thinking about a small car, compared with about 20 percent who are focusing on a family sedan or small SUV.

Two of the magazine's Top Pick vehicles for 2006 are hybrids — the Toyota Prius and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

The survey also found seven of ten Americans have accepted $3-a-gallon gas, but only half are prepared to pay $4.

“High gas prices are not just an inconvenience anymore,” said Robert Gentile, director of Consumer Reports' Auto Price Services. “They are forcing people to reconsider what and how they drive, even the way they live their lives.”

The survey found about 36 percent of consumers will find it harder to pay for essentials like food and health care. Thirty-nine percent said they would have to change vacation plans.

Other findings from the Consumer Reports survey:

  • 42 percent strongly agreed they will drive less to save gas
  • 38 percent will reduce spending on restaurant meals and other entertainment
  • 38 percent will drive more slowly and more smoothly in order to save gas
  • 16 percent will walk or ride a bicycle more
  • 13 percent will carpool more
  • 10 percent will use public transportation more

Consumer Reports surveyed 2,400 men and women across the country.