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.
Laura Woodford, a case manager in Albuquerque, used to drive a 2001 Suzuki 4x4. It was great for New Mexico’s dirt roads and fine for her short commute to the office.
But when her new job required her to drive to Gallup and the state’s rural northwest twice a week, the Suzuki became a liability. Woodford was logging 350 to 400 miles per week to visit her clients with developmental disabilities, and her car was getting 18 miles per gallon.
For months, she kept her eyes out for a used hybrid, and finally found a 2007 Honda Civic hybrid in April 2011. The Civic hybrid gets about 45 miles per gallon.
“In my Suzuki I had to gas up when I got out to those rural areas, and gas is 10 or 20 cents higher than it is in Albuquerque,” Woodford explains. “Now I drive there and back, and another week in town before I have to fill up again.”
At $4 a gallon, Woodford will likely save more than $200 a month on gas this summer. The savings is critical. As an independent contractor, she pays her own gas costs up front, and gets only a minimal mileage reimbursement from the government at tax time.
“I used to complain to all my clients that live up there about the drive, and they’d all kind of laugh,” says Woodford. “Because out there all they do is drive, drive, drive, for the grocery store, the Laundromat, for drinkable water, to go to the dentist. They didn’t want to hear me complaining. And now I don’t have to.”
[Raising national fuel efficiency standards can help make everyone a smart driver. Tell President Obama to strengthen vehicle standards to 60 miles per gallon.]