Striving for greater gas efficiencies is always a good thing. We feel good about ourselves for using less fossil fuels. We feel good about ourselves for being responsible for fewer emissions. And we’re particularly pleased to be spending less money each year on filling up.
Yet despite knowing it is an important factor when choosing the car we will drive every day, gas efficiency has become yet another number to consider in what can so often be the confusing world of purchasing a car.
When my 65 year old mother told me she was looking for a new car she said she wanted it to be gas efficient. I dug a little deeper. Her other criteria included: small, not too fast, easy to drive, no fancy gadgets, not too powerful an engine, not more than 2 years old. Honestly she would have been hard pushed to find something that could be argued NOT to be gas efficient. Small, modern, simple, light, slow. All winning words when looking for a car that will not guzzle gas. Much as she has been told that if she really wants to improve gas efficiency she should be wary of erratic acceleration and hard breaking, applying that lesson is going to take her a little time.
Yet she still had choices, and also a few practicalities to consider. For a while she insisted on considering hybrid cars. But knowing her as we do, we managed to make her see that in order for a hybrid car to function in a hybrid way she would need to reliably charge it. This would require remembering to actually plug it in. After some soul searching she finally, begrudgingly, agreed that this would never happen.
While I mock my mother, she highlights an important point for us all. How do we actually use our cars? How do we drive them? How do they need to function? What is our purchase budget? Over what period of time will we see financial benefits? How efficient is my current car? How do I even know?
While there might be buyers out there for whom maximum gas efficiency is the absolute top priority and they may have memorized lists of facts about the top 5 gas efficient executive car, top 5 gas efficient trucks, top 5 gas effluence trucks, the majority of us have other things we are looking for as well that have at least equal and likely higher importance to us. I could have presented my mother with the world’s most gas efficient car, but if it had been too fast, too big, too fancy or too expensive she would have outright rejected it (she would also have rejected it based on color, but maybe that’s a whole different topic for another day).
When I read articles and lists telling me what the most gas efficient vehicles out there are I feel bombarded with data, some of which helps me but most of which gets in the way of the main question I have - which cars best meet other my needs, which cars should I consider? These articles generally consider gas efficiency alongside other features and attributes of that car, resulting in an overall ranking. And this challenges me. Because how does that person know which features have priority to me and my family and my day? Where one journalist considers a given feature something that elevates a rating, it might be an incessant irritant to me.
So for me (and I consider myself a pretty average person when it comes to buying cars - I need a car, I have an opinion on which cars I like and dislike, but I start to glaze over when someone suggests I read a brochure full of technical specs) starting with criteria such as size, aesthetics, practicality, driving comfort, seating configuration & adaptability, and purchase budget makes sense. Once I have that shortlist of cars I know will work for me (and likely a list of other cars I have firmly ruled out - they might be great for the people but they categorically don’t meet my needs) - cars I feel confident I will be pleased to drive each day - I can then start to build up the more detailed numbers. Just as I can find online estimates for insurance and likely maintenance, I can find online estimates for gas costs. Inputting simple information such as my own zip code, approximate annual mileage, make and model of the car(s) I am researching, and make and model of the car I currently drive, an algorithm that has been created by a clever person who has done all the research and cross tabulated all the possible variables, will tell me my expected gas costs for the new vehicle, and comparative savings.
The numbers only become over whelming when you let them. When you embrace them they can allow you to move forward with your purchasing decisions with confidence. No surprises. Not bad ones anyway.