With the national economy and elevated gas prices having a real impact on American households, it is more important now than ever for car buyers to look at the complete cost scenario when choosing a model. Consumer Reports analysis shows that on a typical new car, depreciation accounts for 46 percent of the owner costs over a five-year period. Depreciation is greatest in the first years. If saving money, not just fuel, is your true goal, then consider buying used.
Pre-owned vehicles have already gone through the initial period of rapid depreciation. By focusing on a nearly-new model, say 2-3 years old, you can find a vehicle that offers comparable fuel economy, performance, safety, and reliability as a new car, often with some transferable warranty coverage remaining.
With a lower transaction price, sales tax, and insurance, used cars can be more affordable to purchase and own. Of course, buying used can put a larger, better-equipped model within your budget, but if fuel economy is your driving motivation, then consider these frugal choices.
The cars below are the most fuel-efficient models available in their price range and many have performed well in our tests. Other fuel efficient cars, such as the Mini Cooper, command a premium, thus cutting into the money saving. The fuel economy numbers come from our measurements using a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon (mpg). CR's overall mileage is calculated from equal portions of city, expressway, and rural roads.
|Under $10,000 ||Overall mpg |
|2000 Honda Insight (manual) ||51 |
|2001-02 Toyota Prius ||41 |
|2000-05 Toyota Echo ||38 |
|1998-2002 Chevrolet Prizm ||32 |
|1998 Mazda Protegé LX ||32 |
|1998-2000 Toyota Corolla LE ||32 |
|1998-2001 Acura Integra LS (manual) ||32 |
|$10,000-$20,000 ||Overall mpg |
|2004-06 Toyota Prius ||44 |
|2001-03 Toyota Prius ||41 |
|2006-07 Honda Civic Hybrid ||37 |
|2003-05 Honda Civic Hybrid ||36 |
|2007 Honda Fit Sport (manual) ||34 |
|2007 Toyota Yaris Liftback (base, manual) ||34 |
There are a number of used cars that have excellent fuel economy, plus are affordable and reliable such as the Chevrolet Prizm, Honda Civic, Honda Fit, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Echo, and Toyota Yaris. Note that these days, any hybrid will be hard to find, and therefore, retail prices may be above the official value. Also, keep in mind that the older cars on this list may lack common safety features such as ABS and side-curtain airbags. Check out our complete list of the most fuel-efficient used cars and the best and worst used cars. Plus see our Guide to Green Driving for more information on fuel economy and alternative fuels. When you’re ready to make a purchase, see our used car buying guide for advice on choosing the right used car for you, selling your old car, and getting the best price.
—Liza Barth and Jeff Bartlett
For more information on saving fuel see our reports on how to get the best gas mileage and where to find the cheapest gas.