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High Gas Prices Are Discouraging Americans From Buying Cars Right Now

3 minute read

Few Americans are buying new cars right now, and for nearly half of those who didn’t buy a car this year, high gas prices were a big reason why. That’s according to a survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of TIME.

Earlier this month, gas prices in the U.S. hit an average $5/gallon for the first time ever—the result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, pandemic supply chain disruptions, inflation, and higher demand. Not only are more people commuting again, but the summer season is here and everyone is very ready to hit the road. But with prices at the pump nearly $2 more per gallon than they were a year ago, it seems to be making some people think twice about acquiring gas guzzlers.

The poll, which surveyed over 1,000 adults across the U.S. at the end of June, shows that only 10% of respondents bought a new car in the past six months. And in addition to the cost and type of car leading the way as obviously important factors, just over half of the people who bought a car said they took gas prices into consideration when making their purchase. That’s compared to 44% of people who bought a car saying they cared about the type of fuel the car used. Meanwhile, only about a third of those surveyed said environmental concerns played a part in their decision to not buy a new car.

This suggests that the immediate impact on people’s wallets appears to be a bigger influence in car-use behavior in the U.S. than the longer term implications of driving fossil-fuelled vehicles.

My colleague Justin Worland reported earlier this year, if everything from congestion, accidents, and air pollution was factored into pump prices, gas would cost an extra $2.10 per gallon. Perhaps if such costs were built in, the U.S. car fleet would look much different than it does.

Meanwhile, when it comes to renting a car, gas prices and the environment mattered even less. The overwhelming concern for those surveyed who have rented this past year (about 15% of the total polled) was getting whatever type of vehicle they wanted for the best price—and for over 75% of car renters, that meant a gas-powered car. Gas prices and fuel economy mattered to just over a third of renters, while a quarter of them said the type of fuel their rental car used mattered to them. Ultimately, only 19% of people said they reserved a hybrid or electric car.

This could shift though. Hertz tells TIME it is seeing growing demand for fuel-efficient, electric, or hybrid cars. And Enterprise Holdings—which owns car rental brands Enterprise, National, and Alamo—says that “when we’ve seen fuel price increases in the past, we tend to begin seeing consumer interest rise in fuel efficiency and alternative fuel options.”

Things likely won’t slow down, however, as we head into the hotter months. Enterprise Holdings says “demand and reservations continue to look strong for summer despite gas prices.” The company expects domestic travel to match last year’s high levels, with two-thirds of their customers in an internal survey conducted in June saying they planned to go on roadtrips. But, it added, “59% of those said they would consider staying closer to home as a result of the higher gas prices.”

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