Your Guide to Understanding MPG

In today’s landscape of escalating gas prices, fuel economy considerations have become a major part of the car buying process. Buyers are using the estimated Miles per Gallon (MPG) rating to help them decide between two otherwise similar vehicles. By understanding exactly what this rating means and how to find it, you’ll be better equipped to start saving at the pump.

Finding the MPG

When shopping at the dealer, locating the EPA estimated MPG is a relatively straight forward process. All new cars and many used cars have their fuel efficiency rating listed right alongside the window sticker price. These fuel economy numbers are broken into three parts:

  • City MPG: The EPA estimate of gas consumption under city driving conditions
  • Highway MPG: The EPA estimate of a gas consumption under highway driving conditions
  • Combined MPG: The fuel performance for the vehicle when the City and Highway MPGs are combined. This is an average of the two separate tests, and it is weighted by the distance covered.

Even if you are buying a used car and the vehicle’s MPG is not directly listed on the sticker price, finding this information is a relatively straight forward process.  By law, automakers must post the EPA certified fuel-economy ratings for all their vehicles. The only exceptions to this are vehicles with a gross-vehicle-weight rating over 8,500 pounds. You can find information on a specific vehicle’s MPG by contacting the car manufacturer or visiting their website. FuelEconmy.Gov  also provides a listing for all EPA estimates.

EPA vs. Real World MPG

The problem, however, is that EPA estimates are not always the best indicator of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency when exposed to real-world driving conditions. While they are great for comparing one brand new vehicle against another, these estimates can be misleading when used to compare two used vehicles.

The reason for this is the conditions in which the tests are completed. EPA fuel economy tests are conducted under ideal conditions, with vehicles that have been properly broken in and that are in top mechanical shape. In addition, these vehicles are tested without a full complement of passengers or cargo and are driven without the air conditioning and other electrical accessories in use. So, if you are buying a used car, these estimates may be grossly misleading. Depending on your driving habits and the condition of the car, the actual miles per gallon can be much lower.

Other Elements Contributing to Fuel Efficiency

While EPA estimates are great for comparing new cars, they should not be your only consideration in a used car purchase. Other elements you can use to determine the fuel economy on a used car include:

  • Manual Transmission: Cars with manual transmissions often get better MPG when compared to their automatic transmission counterparts.
  • Engine Size: More horsepower and larger engine liter size can contribute to lower MPG. For example, a 1.2-liter engine may have better fuel efficiency than a 1.5-liter engine.
  • Clean Diesel: Many newer model cars are being offered with a clean diesel option. This can result in better fuel economy when compared to a gasoline engine.

Understanding Your Used Car Buying Financing Options

Need help deciding on the best way to finance a used car? The following used car financing guide outlines all your car buying options to help you decide which is right for you.

Used Car Financing Decision #1: Cash or Credit?

When deciding on how you will finance a car, you first need to decide whether to pay for the entire car upfront or to take out a loan. Take note that paying for the car in full is the ideal choice. This is because car buyers who take out loans to pay for their car wind up paying more for the loan, as finance and interest charges are added into the overall price.

Used Car Financing Decision #2: Buy or Lease?

Unfortunately, most car buyers cannot afford to pay for a car in cash. So, their next choice is to either buy or lease.

The advantage of leasing a car is that monthly payments are generally lower. And because lease terms generally only last between 12 and 36 months, you get the advantage of owning a new car every few years.  Leases also require little (if anything) in the way of down payments, meaning that if you are a less financially established car buyer, leasing allows you to drive a nice car for relatively little investment.

The major disadvantage of leasing a car is that you will always have a car payment, and you will never own the car. And if you do decide to buy the car when the lease is over, you will wind up paying more than if you decided to buy the car outright.

Leases also have restrictions on how the car can be driven. For instance, most leases place restrictions on the number of miles a car can be driven each year (usually between 12,000 and 15,000 miles), if you break these restrictions, you face severe penalties.

Decision #3: Private or Dealer Financing?

While leasing is a good way to save money on a month to month basis, choosing to buy the car is often the better economical choice. However, even if you do decide to buy instead of lease, you still have one more decision to make: Deciding between dealer-offered financing and private lender financing.

The advantages of dealer offered financing are convenience and eligibility. This is because the dealer never wants financing to stand in their way of making a sale, so they will pull out all the stops to help you qualify for a loan.

However, if you are looking to save money, choosing to go to a bank or credit union is probably the better choice. Banks and lenders often offer lower interest rates when compared to dealership financing, meaning that you will pay less over the lifetime of the loan.

Keep in mind, that when you are deciding on your financing options, not every decision is right for everyone.  For this reason, it is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each decision point, and decide which option best fits your current needs.

Family Car Buying Guide: Finding the Best Vehicle for Your Family

Searching for a new car for your family? The good news is that the term “Family Car” is no longer synonymous with a staid minivan or station wagon. Instead, depending on the size, shape and needs of your family, there’s a wide selection of cars, crossovers and SUVs to choose from.  Regardless of whether your primary concern is safety, legroom, reliability, affordability or style, the following list of criteria can help you find the right car for your family.

The Small Family

If you have a small family, and you plan on keeping it that way, your options are virtually endless. While you will want to stay away from vehicles with limited trunk space, or sports cars and trucks with no back seats, your choices will include a wide selection of affordably priced sedans, hatchbacks, station wagons and crossovers.

Your Ideal Choice

When affordability and drivability are leading your buying decision, a used sedan is a great choice. Most families with one or two kids find that these vehicles have enough space to meet the day-to-day to challenges of getting their families where they need to be with all their accessories in tow. Adding to their appeal is the fact that many sedans are known for their maneuverability and fuel economy.

Features to look for:

  • Safety: Safety can be the most important aspect of finding the best family car. You can find the safety ratings for many used vehicles at
  • Storage Space: Don’t underestimate the need for a large trunk or roof racks. Even small families of three need enough extra room for taking weekend trips and hauling groceries.
  • Legroom: If you plan to travel with adult-sized passengers, the car you choose should have the legroom to match.

The On-the-Go and Growing Family

Your family may be small today, but things may be dramatically different two years from now. If growth is in your family’s future, there is no need to run out and buy a new car every time your needs change. Instead with a little foresight, you can find a car that fits your needs today with enough versatility to expand with your family.

Your Ideal Choice

Today’s modern station wagons and hatchbacks – which have shed the boxy outdated exterior styling of past generations – can be a perfect match for a growing family. With roomy backseats and a versatile cargo area, many of these vehicles can quickly go from hauling band instruments to taking the entire family on a weekend trip to grandma’s house.

Features to look for:

  • Car Seats: The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, which is designed to help parents safely secure their child’s car seat, has been a requirement in all new cars since 2002. When examining this feature, make sure the car has multiple LATCH anchors – this offers flexibility for the placement of car seats.
  • Capacity: When examining capacity, don’t just look at the number of people the vehicle can seat. Make sure there is enough trunk and cargo space for family vacations and car pools.
  • Reliability: You may be handing over the keys of this car someday to one of your children. So look for a vehicle with a track-record of reliability.

The Large Family

It may be hard to admit, but the minivan is still one of the best choices for the large family with ever-expanding needs. Not only do most minivans comfortably seat families of six and sometimes more, but when compared to other the large scale options on the market, they are among some of the most affordable.

Your Ideal Choice

If you want a car that offers a little more style than the average minivan, a crossover is a great alternative. Known for some of the most creative engineering on the car market, today’s modern crossovers are redefining the family car driving experience. Combining the space of a minivan, the drivability of a sedan, and the styling of a SUV, they are an ideal choice for larger families.

Features to look for:

  • Seating: Many crossovers and SUVs offer an optional third row of seating. While more expensive, this option may increase the vehicle’s seating capacity by up to eight people – sometimes more.
  • Fuel Economy: Larger cars are notoriously bad in terms of fuel economy. To avoid this look for SUVs and crossovers that offers a clean diesel or hybrid option.
  • Family Ready Interior: Don’t underestimate the importance of things like cup holders, side pockets, cargo nets and organizer trays. Other more high tech features to look for include multiple USB Ports, rear seat DVD players and navigation systems.

Do You Have to Compromise to Achieve Better MPG?

Until recently, the general rule of thumb seemed to be that fuel efficiency and the compact car were tied together. And if you wanted more legroom, more power or more cargo space, you needed to sacrifice a few MPGs.

This, however, no longer seems to be the case, as the green technological revolution is resulting in any number of fuel efficient options being introduced to just about every segment of the market. With fuel efficient SUVS, diesel powered  pickup trucks and hybrid powered mid-size sedans now capable of exceeding the 30 mpg and even the 40 mpg barrier, car buyers are offered a myriad of larger and more powerful choices.

Gasoline Powered Compacts

Traditionally, the 40 mpg mark has been restricted to the hybrid. But now, due to technological improvements that have led to smaller frames, innovative seating designs and improved gasoline consumption, there is an ever-growing list of gasoline powered compact cars capable of breaking the 40 mpg barrier.

Hyundai Elantra

Many of the gas-powered cars boasting 40 MPG only offer their maximum fuel efficiency in a specially priced and equipped trim level. This, however, is not the case for the Hyundai Elantra. As the best-selling car in Hyundai’s lineup, the Elantra offers better than 40 mpg on the highway in all its trim options. This includes the surprisingly spacious four-door Elantra Touring.

Chevrolet Cruze Eco

This car may be compact and lightweight, but with a turbo-charged engine and seating for up to five passengers, the Cruze Eco is more than capable of delivering a comfortable, fun and roomy driving experience.

Diesel Powered Sedans

New clean diesel technology has also opened the door for the midsize sedan. As automakers begin to take advantage of this new environmentally friendly option, a number of diesel powered cars capable of getting 40 mpg or better are being produced:

Volkswagen Passat

If you are looking for a sedan that has a little more space than the average compact car, the Volkswagen Passat is an ideal choice. The diesel version of the mid-size Passat not only offers 43 mpg on the highway, but it does so without the use of a hybrid system.

Hybrid SUVs

Search For Your Next Green Car

Our Fuel Economy Search helps you find a car by minimum Air Pollution Score, Greenhouse Gas Score, and Fuel Economy desired.

No longer are SUVs the gas guzzling behemoths of the late 1990s. Instead, hybrid and diesel technology has enabled automakers to create SUVs that offer the interior space and ride quality of the SUV with the fuel-saving capabilities of the hybrid.

Ford Escape Hybrid

The Ford Escape is one of the best-selling SUVs of all time for a reason. And when you add in its new hybrid technology, car buyers can experience the most fuel efficient SUV on the road without compromising things like power, cargo space and interior comfort.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers all-wheel drive and an engine so powerful you won’t believe it’s a hybrid. Better yet, with a third row of seats and seating for seven this SUV has enough space to handle larger loads.

The bottom line is that car buyers no longer have to choose between fuel efficiency and a car that meets their needs. With a myriad of gasoline, hybrid and diesel options available there is a fuel efficient vehicle to match just about any lifestyle.

How to Sniff Out a Lemon

Photo by Andrew Comings, Flickr.

Photo by Andrew Comings, Flickr.

Excited about the value that a used car offers, but worried about inheriting someone else’s headaches? It is important to realize that buying a reliable car that won’t let you down has less to do with luck and more to do with research. Any time you buy a used car, regardless of whether it was from a dealer or out of the classified ads, it is up to you to do a little a background work.

The good news is that you don’t have to be an auto mechanic to separate the reliable cars from the lemons. A few of the following time-tested strategies can help you determine whether the used car you have been thinking about buying is a potential package of trouble.

Check the Sticker

If you are buying the car from the dealership, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires the dealer to include a buyer’s guide with every used car they are selling. The information listed in this guide must include:

  • Whether the vehicle is being sold “As Is” (meaning the dealer makes no guarantees as to the condition of the vehicle) or with a warranty
  • The percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty
  • All the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including potential problems with those systems

Note: When you buy a used car from a dealer, make sure you receive a copy of the original buyer’s guide that was posted in the vehicle. Because this guide is part of your sales contract and will override and contrary provisions, it must note any negotiated changes in warranty coverage.

Inspect The Exterior

Don’t just give it a look; spend some time examining the car closely. By conducting a thorough inspection of the exterior of the car, you will be able to tell if the vehicle has undergone any major body work. Mismatched body panels, uneven gaps between doors, and paint over-sprays are sure signs that parts from the original vehicle have been replaced. You can also use a magnet to detect body filler. If the magnet does not stick to certain parts of the car, this may mean that filler was used to cover up dents or rust spots.

Other points to check include the doors, hood, trunk, locks and windows. If these do not operate properly, it may be a sign that the vehicle’s exterior integrity has been altered.  You may also want to measure the distance between each wheel and the body of the car.  If there is a difference in distance from one wheel to the next, this may be an indication that repairs were made following a major collision.

Ask for the CARFAX®

Never buy a vehicle until you have requested a vehicle history report from a credible source. Reports from services like or VehicleHistory.Gov will include details on past fire, flood, and accident damage, as well as vehicle odometer information. At, we have partnered with CARFAX to help you more easily receive this information. Our premium listings will include a free Carfax History Report  For those that don’t include this listing, we offer an option to quickly purchase the report from CARFAX.

Visit Your Mechanic

A quick inspection of the car’s engine may not reveal everything that is wrong. For this reason, it is advisable to have the used car inspected by an auto mechanic. Look for a qualified third-party mechanic that routinely does automotive diagnostic work. These types of services generally cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100.

The dealer or private seller should have no issues with any of the previous actions or requests. If they do, do not hesitate to walk away and continue your shopping elsewhere.