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Living With Climate Change: Not ready for an electric vehicle, despite the spike in gas prices? Buckle up, here are some of the most fuel-efficient traditional cars

The sting of gasoline prices above $4 a gallon leaves some Americans rethinking their driving options, and just how aggressively they burn gas while driving.

For some drivers, the double-edged sword of rising inflation after the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine leading to a spike in gas prices may push them into an electric vehicle.

Others, however, may just revisit how to make the best of their gas engine.

Tight, but improving, supplies of both gas-powered vehicles and EVs are pushing up sticker prices. Energy-giant Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has added volatility to already sharply higher energy markets, including record-setting gasoline prices
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and a 14-year high price for oil
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The day Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced the unprovoked attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24, a gallon of gas was $3.54, according to AAA’s national average, excluding local sales taxes and other fees. As of March 10, AAA said the national average was $4.31.

Read: Inflation is red hot and drivers are reaching their breaking point — and that was before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine set gas prices soaring

Going for that EV now?

The volatility of the gas market may leave some consumers ready to ditch an internal-combustion engine forever and become an early joiner of the nation’s march to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Online searches of EVs are up in the last two weeks, but many consumers may just be window shopping. EVs cost more in the showroom than gas-powered cars, and EV insurance and repair costs are higher at least until that market expands.

“The Department of Energy says on average, it costs about half as much to drive an EV versus a comparable gas car over the life of those cars.”

Market tracker LMC Automotive expects EVs to make up 34.2% of new U.S. vehicle sales by 2030, with all-electric at 30.1% and plug-in gas/electric hybrids at 4.1%. Sales of EVs, including plug-in hybrids, were only about 4% of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2021. Still, that marked a doubling from just a year earlier.

Read: Chasing Tesla: Here are the current electric vehicle plans of every major car maker

Relative to existing electrical bills, charging an EV at home could mean a sharp increase, but in most cases, the cost is considerably lower than fueling a gasoline-powered car, say auto experts at Cars.com. The Department of Energy says on average, it costs about half as much to drive an EV versus a comparable gas car over the life of those cars.

A pickup in EV buying may still hinge on whether Congress moves to improve buying incentives.

Back to a sedan or a two-door?

Historically, a spike in gas prices, like during the Gulf wars, convinced many auto dealerships to push their cars with more efficiency and smaller gas tanks to the front of the lot and their larger sport-utility vehicles to the back.

MarketWatch asked Cars.com executive editor and lead EV analyst Joe Wiesenfelder if this mindset persists.

“People still think of cars as being vastly more efficient than SUVs, but the differences aren’t as great as they were when SUVs were all based on truck platforms and were all larger,” he said.

“Many of the most popular SUVs of today aren’t much larger than cars. The compacts and subcompacts may sit taller, have hatches and all-wheel drive, but we’ve come a long way from the original Ford
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Explorer that sold in the millions,” Wiesenfelder added.

That observation comes with a big caveat:

“On the other hand, when gas is this expensive, differences of 1 or 2 miles per gallon start to look bigger, possibly disproportionately so, and I’d expect consumers to return to what they know, which is smaller vehicles and cars, if they’re available,” he added.

For sure, the auto industry is widely getting more efficient when it comes to miles per gallon (MPG), pushed there by regulation and shifting consumer expectations.

That’s why Cars.com has published lists that speak to today’s drivers. These lifts include offerings from Tesla
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General Motors
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and Ford, in the EV space. And more-efficient traditional options from Hyundai
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Honda
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Toyota
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Kia
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among others.

Here are some of the most fuel-efficient gas-powered cars:

1. Mitsubishi Mirage: 36/43/39 mpg (city and highway driving)

2. Hyundai Elantra: 33/43/37 mpg

3. Honda Civic: 33/42/36 mpg

4. Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio: 33/41/36 mpg (tie)

5. Toyota Corolla Hatchback: 32/41/35 mpg

Most fuel-efficient gas/electric hybrid

1. Hyundai Ioniq: 58/60/59 mpg

2. Toyota Prius: 58/53/56 mpg

3. Hyundai Elantra Hybrid: 53/56/54 mpg

4. Honda Insight: 55/49/52 mpg

5. Toyota Corolla Hybrid: 53/52/52 mpg

Most fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid

1. Toyota Prius Prime: 133 mpg-equivalent

2. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid: 119 mpg-e

3. Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid: 105 mpg-e

4. Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid: 105 mpg-e

5. Toyota RAV4 Prime: 94 mpg-e

Most efficient electric vehicles (energy use per 100 miles)

2022 Tesla Model 3 RWD: 25 kWh

2. 2022 Lucid Air Grand Touring w/19-inch wheels: 26 kWh

3. 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV: 28 kWh

4. 2022 Hyundai Kona EV: 28 kWh

5. 2022 Tesla Model S: 28 kWh

6. 2022 Tesla Model Y Long Range: 28 kWh

7. 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV: 29 kWh

8. 2022 Kia EV6 RWD: 29 kWh

9. 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 RWD: 30 kWh

10. 2022 Kia Niro EV: 30 kWh

How to conserve your existing gasoline

Not in the market for new wheels at all? Car and driving experts have an easy list for how to save fuel and money when gas prices are high, just by modifying driving behavior.

Weight is fuel economy’s natural enemy, so removing unnecessary items or people from your car can translate to real fuel savings.

Go easy on the accelerator. Jackrabbit starts and full-throttle acceleration boost fuel consumption dramatically. Light acceleration saves more than moderate acceleration.

Cruise control can help. Aggressive driving such as speeding, rapid acceleration and braking lowers gas mileage by up to 30% at highway speeds according to the EPA. Using cruise control reduces these behaviors and helps the engine and transmission operate more efficiently while increasing fuel economy.

Keep tires inflated. Under-inflated tires can lower your fuel economy by full miles per gallon.

Don’t ignore the check engine light. It could represent a dead oxygen sensor or some other emissions control problem that causes the vehicle to waste several miles per gallon.

Roll the windows down. The air conditioner robs engine power and lowers fuel economy.

Aerodynamics matter. Roof-top carriers and bike and ski racks don’t do you any favors even when they’re empty. Also, remove aftermarket add-ons such as bug deflectors and window and sunroof wind deflectors.

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