Smart Drivers, Big Savings: Julie Ames, Clarksville VA

Julie Ames Prius_crop.jpg

Gas prices are on the rise again, and this year, experts say, prices could top 2008’s record-setting national average of $4.11 per gallon. But many Americans are driving smarter this time around, as demonstrated by the booming market for hybrids and small, fuel-efficient cars, whose growth is far outpacing traditional SUV sales. These smart drivers are getting a lot more bang for their gas bucks, and easing their pain at the pump. We’re featuring them in a series of posts in this space.

Julie Ames loves her peaceful, lakeside home in rural Clarksville, Virginia – so much so that she doesn’t mind commuting 100 miles a day to her job as an accountant in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. Time-wise, her 70-minute commute isn’t much worse than her co-workers’ 50-minute drive through 20 miles of stop-and-go traffic from Raleigh, North Carolina.

“And at least when I get home I get to be on a lake,” she says.

Ames was concerned, however, about the environmental impacts of all that driving. And when she racked up 220,000 miles on her 2001 Toyota Camry, she and her partner, who commutes with her, decided it was time to invest in a new vehicle.

The Camry got a decent 27 miles to the gallon, but Ames thought they could do better. In 2009, she purchased a Toyota Prius. She’s now getting 48 to 50 miles per gallon, cutting the gas use on her commute by about 40 percent. At $4 a gallon, she'd save about $130 a month on gas.

What’s more, the Prius is even big enough to do some of the jobs once reserved for her twenty-year-old, 12-mpg Chevy Suburban, such as transporting sheets of drywall.

“All in all it’s a fantastic car,” says Ames. “It’s a great investment, and to be honest, it’s a moral offset to driving 100 miles a day.”