Does Fuel Economy Matter Anymore?

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As automakers struggle for every last MPG and exaggerated claims about fuel economy become the norm, you have to wonder, how much do those numbers even matter to the average buyer anymore?

MPG ratings went to the top of everyone’s list when gas prices took a giant leap into the stratosphere a few years back, but now those prices are coming down. The shock of seeing the number at the pump is also gone, with the increased cost now a normal part of our budgets. Buying a car for fuel economy just doesn’t seem as urgent as it did five years ago.

I just bought a new car and I didn’t even look, not once, at the fuel economy numbers on that sticker before I handed over my hard earned cash. I had a rough idea of what I was looking at for MPG and knew our SUV was not going to be anywhere near as efficient as the hybrid we were replacing, but if you ask me the exact numbers, I’ll have to go dig that sticker out of the glove box.

Clearly, at one time fuel economy did matter because we bought a hybrid for that reason alone. A long commute and sudden high prices at the pump made it matter, but we’ve grown accustomed to those prices. The sticker shock of gas prices is long gone, so fuel economy, although important, isn’t so urgent.

This time, we wanted a car that we could afford, that we liked, and that wouldn’t leave us stranded in the snow since we live in New England, also known as the Land of Endless Winter. Fuel economy? That wasn’t even on the list. There’s no denying that fuel economy affects the overall cost of owning a car and that we will be paying more for gas than we were in our hybrid, but we wanted a car that we really liked this time.

Buying a hybrid was a knee-jerk reaction to rising gas prices and limited what we could purchase. We bought it for very practical reasons, but now that gas prices are less volatile, we wanted a car that we liked more than one that kept cash in our pockets. We felt like we did our time in that small, fuel-sipping hybrid and we were done.

A lot of people still put the focus on fuel economy, to be sure, and if cash is tight then likely even more so, but they’re also paying a premium to get into that car in the first place. Doing the math may reveal the unfortunate reality that the break-even point means driving that new hybrid for the next 20 years before it’s worth the extra investment.

It’s not all about fuel economy if you’re looking to save a buck, and there’s a point where we all want to just love our cars, mileage be damned.

Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin

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