Should Americans Consider Fuel Efficiency over Dependability?

As gas prices remain high, car shoppers are beginning to reconsider their priorities when choosing their next vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The federal department conducted a survey this month asking respondents to select the most important attribute when shopping for a new car. Choices included fuel economy, dependability, price and quality.

Over the past 30 years, dependability has usually beaten all the other attributes in the survey. But this year, fuel economy took the top spot.

Nearly 30% of survey respondents chose fuel economy, while 22% picked either dependability or safety. In 2000, just 11% of respondents selected fuel economy while 33% considered dependability and 24% considered safety. To find a time when fuel economy beat out dependability by a healthy margin, you’d have to go all the way back to 1980, when oil prices reached a then-all-time high as a result of the Arab oil embargo.

There’s a strong correlation between the cost of gas and car shoppers caring about fuel economy above all other factors. What is surprising is that car shoppers are more concerned about fuel economy than they were in 2008.

Fuel economy and dependability were tied for the top attribute in 2008, at 27%. That’s when gas prices peaked at their all-time historical highs, beating the high-water mark of 1980 after adjusting for inflation, according to AAA. Today, prices aren’t that far off from those of 2008, due to unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, along with improvements in the global economy.

Consumers might also be less optimistic that gas prices will return to a sub-$3-per-gallon rate this time around. Maybe, too, that since cars are lasting longer with fewer breakdowns, reliability is taken more for granted nowadays.

Would you choose a car that got superb fuel economy but was less dependable?

Fuel Economy Is 'Most Important' When Buying a Vehicle (U.S. Department of Energy)

By Colin Bird | June 21, 2011 | Comments (18)


Derrick G

This seems a purely academic question. The only car I know with well above average fuel economy with subpar reliability is the smart, which I wouldn't consider for a myriad of other reasons.

Tyler Lipa

I think its really hard to judge reliability anymore when really reliability to a lot of consumers is will it start everyday? The consumer base who I think truly cares about both fuel economy as well as reliability is the truck market because there you actual rely on the truck for your livelihood and they want to use less fuel to do it. Most people buy cars for short term investments and I think we're moving more towards how Europe is where no one works on their own car and the DIY'er may be a dying breed...



According to several sources (JDpower,, Mini has astoundingly bad reliability and, as far as the Cooper is concerned, good fuel economy.

Amuro Ray

@ Derrick G,

Apparently, u've forgotten 'bou the Prius.

Amuro Ray

Oops my bad. U wrote "subpar" but my brain interpreted it as "superb"...


This questionnaire is BS. Because if you buy a car with good dependability, good fuel economy and bad seat, do you buy it? I don't. As in case with Honda Fit. Unless all cars will have seats like that, right? To me, car purchase decision derives from sum of Pros and Cons. If the people would buy cars because they efficient, we would all drive Mini, Insight, Smart etc.
They say, "...most important attribute when shopping for a new car." Obviously, this is just a perception rather then reality because reality is that most important attribute is "vehicle that fits the needs" and only then fuel economy withing the group). Otherwise, how would one explain sale numbers on Impala, Cr-v, Rav-4, Highlander etc.?????????????

Derrick G

I wondered there for a minute Amuro. MJ, it's good but not superb mileage for the Mini.


Dependability and comfort still rule the day. If you have to worry about the price of gas or how many mpg you'll get, you should ride a bike instead of buying a car. It doesn't matter to me what brand of bike or car you choose to buy, what matters is that it suits your wants and needs. But if I were to be in the market for a dependable, economical small car these days, I would look at the track records of the manufacturers first. Mpg may be important to some people but if you have a lead foot or keep the pedal to the metal all the time your mpg goes right out the tail pipe. So it would appear, to me at least, that dependability would be first and foremost on the shopping list. What good is mpg if your car is in the shop all of the time for warranty repair? This year we pitched in to give our granddaughter a new car for high school graduation and she chose a 2011 Hyundai Elantra. It has proven to be good on mpg and has not needed any warranty repair. And the warranty is the best in the industry (10yrs/100,000miles)! Good deal.


Yeah....a bike!
1520cc, 6 cylinders, 6 carbs, 100+HP and 38mpg if I behave myself. Leaving the 23mpg Coupe in the garage till the rainy season returns 5 months from now.


Dan, over the years I have owned both a Benelli Sei (6cyl/750cc) and a Honda CBX (6cyl/1000cc), among the dozens of new and used bikes I bought and traded. My favorite road-riders remain any of the BMW opposed-twins and the Moto-Guzzi V-twin. My off-road favorites are any of the KTM and Yamaha Motocrossers. I still say, if you got to worry about mpg, ride a bike!


False choice. Consumers should not have to choose between fuel economy OR reliability. That's a totally false premise.


Why do we as American drives continue rant and rave over the price of gas? It makes no sense when petro in europe costs far more. It seems we are cry-babies and can't accept the fact that we have it pretty darn good here.


I refuse to buy cars that the steering wheels fall off no matter what their gas mileage....

Anonymous Coward

So long as people are driving 10 MPG trucks and buying boats, jet skis, ATVs, dirt bikes, and RVs, it means that gas/diesel is too cheap.



2.5 years ago, gas prices are HALF of what they are now. If your income was to be cut by just 20%, with the claim "You shouldn't be upset, look at how much they get paid in China" or something like that, you still going to be happy?


Rockaby, gas is still cheaper than a gallon of milk or gourmet coffee. Beside, you cannot possibly compare one's income being cut in half to gas that was half of what it used to be 2.5 yrs. ago. There's a huge disparity here. The point is we have far cheaper gas than other countries, yet we complain the most. If you don’t like the price of gas drive less, buy a fuel efficient car, take the bus, or stay home. We really do have options without lining the pockets of big oil companies.


I agree with kj. I don't care about the price of gas. Never have. Never will. I'll buy it no matter what it costs because I like to drive. I'm addicted to gas. And when the money runs out and I can no longer buy gas, then I stop driving. It's as simple as that. And, seriously, during the last couple of price spikes did we see fewer cars on the road? NO! This tells me that most Americans don't care about the price of gas either. They continue to buy it no matter what it costs.


nice comments to post

used trucks

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