Gas Prices Drive Shoppers to Car Lots - NBC 7 San Diego

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Gas Prices Drive Shoppers to Car Lots

Shelling out more money for fuel-efficient cars



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    A power cable from a vehicle charging station is seen plugged into the side of a Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid August 25, 2010 in San Francisco, California. With sales of electric and plug-in hybrid cars expected to increase in the coming years, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has set aside $5 million to increase the number of electric car charging stations to 5,000 around the Bay Area. There are currently 120 stations in the area.

    Does it make sense to spend more money at the car lot to save money at the gas pump?  That's the question facing millions of drivers fed up with skyrocketing prices. 

    But fuel-efficient cars are not always the most cost-efficient, according to the auto industry website

    Katie Sciurba is shopping for a new car.  She's expecting a baby and needs more room, but she'd also like to save on gas mileage.

    "If I could afford a hybrid or an electric car I would definitely get one," Sciurba said.

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    San Diego State University marketing professor Michael Belch says people often react with their wallet when gas prices take a huge jump but he adds, "You have to sit down and calculate the payback."

    Hybrids, diesels and electric cars often cost much more than regular cars and trucks.  Before trading in a car for a fuel-efficient model, you need to do the math. 

    "Let's say you pay three or four thousand dollars more for a car," Belch said. "How much does gas have to go up before you get that money back."

    According to, there are several good reason to purchase a hybrid or diesel car, but saving money isn't one of them.

    More expensive fuel-efficient cars often take one to five years, sometimes much more, to break even with their gasoline equivalents.

    Car salesman JP Bo with Pacific Honda says lately many of their trade-ins are V8s and other gas guzzlers. Customer questions on the car lot often start with gas mileage, Bo said. 

    While it does cost more to buy a hybrid, Bo says many people don't care.

    "A lot of people just have 'green' in their heart, and they want that car because of that," Bo said.