Shopping For a Fuel-efficient Used Car? It's All About Location

Choosing a fuel-efficient car that best suits your needs can be tricky, but considering your neighborhood when making your selection can make things a little easier.

Sure, a sporty sedan with a highway MPG of 40 sounds great, but if you spend most of your time crawling through city traffic, it may not be the best choice for you.

During your car-hunt, consider buying used. The energy expended to extract and transport raw materials and assemble them into the cars we love is staggering. We’re talking tens of thousands of joules here, people. So, if you want to find the most eco-friendly ride, a fuel-efficient used model actually comes with a smaller footprint.

Although hybrid models would have blown most of these picks out of the water, you may notice that our list is hybrid-free. It’s not that we don’t love them. They just aren’t as prevalent in the used car market. See if any of these other models will satisfy your need for speed.

The Honda Civic was built on the concept of fuel-efficiency, even before the term "go green" became trendy. Photo: Flickr/S. Kitajima

For the City-Slicker

The stop-and-go driving of the city can be murder on your mileage, and cars built for top highway performance often don’t fare as well under these rough driving conditions. Check out these picks that are sure to perform even if you’re stuck behind a transit bus, again.

Honda Civic (5-speed manual)

Learning to drive a stick in traffic may take a little practice, but we promise it will be well worth it. Opting for the manual Honda Civic kicks your gas mileage into high gear.

While Honda estimates the Civic’s city mileage at a modest 26 MPG, many road-tests have clocked it as high as 36 MPG, which makes it the best non-hybrid model we could find for the city.

Not only is the Civic our top performance pick, but it also handles like a dream and has a surprisingly roomy interior. It may even feel bigger than your first Manhattan apartment.

Toyota Scion xA (4-speed automatic)

If you’re not the shifting type, don’t fret. The Toyota Scion xA will give you a shift-free drive without skimping on fuel-efficiency. The Scion xA has performed as well as 32 MPG in city road-tests, which is actually higher than its manual counterpart, the Scion xB.

This sporty ride is sure to turn heads as you drive around the block, and you can use the cash you save on gas to pay for that pricy parking space.

Smart Fortwo (5-speed manual)

This two-door coupe isn’t exactly a family vehicle, but if you do most of your driving alone, that back seat only collects junk, anyway. The Smart Fortwo rocked city road-tests with performance as high as 33 MPG, and though it may be little, it packs a surprising amount of power.

This teeny ride is great for maneuvering around stopped buses or idling vehicles on busy city streets, and just think how much easier parallel parking will be!

While Toyota discontinued the Echo in 2005, there are plenty of used models available, at a super-low MPG and price. Photo: Flickr/paulhami

For the Country Driver

Count yourself blessed, smooth driver. The term “highway” performance isn’t just for the freeways. It refers to steady-speed driving with little stops, like your morning commute through forests or fields.

While your car choice may not be the same as your urbanite buddy’s, you can still find an efficient model built for the smooth cruising you’re used to. Check out our choices, and pick your fave.

Toyota Echo (5-speed manual)

While it was never the most popular of the Toyota models, the Echo is No. 1 on our list for fuel-efficiency, performing as high as 43 MPG on highway road-tests.

Toyota discontinued the Echo in 2005 in favor of flashy newer models, but all that means for you is that there are plenty of low-priced used finds for this gas-sipping beauty.

The Echo’s unique design may look a little funny at first, but there is method to the madness. The model’s dome-like appearance makes for a much roomier cabin. So, you don’t have to sacrifice space for fuel-efficiency.

Hyundai Accent (4-speed automatic)

The Hyundai Accent takes smooth sailing to a new level, with great performance and highway mileage as high as 36 MPG in road-tests. The Accent’s sleek and sporty look is sure to get you noticed, whether you’re pulling up to a neighborhood barbeque or driving the kids to soccer practice.

One look inside the Accent’s spacious and beautifully-furnished cabin is sure to sell you.

Chevrolet Malibu (4-speed automatic)

Yes, an American car made our list, and we couldn’t be happier. The stellar safety ratings of the Malibu make it a great pick for families or new drivers, and its gas mileage isn’t too shabby, either. Highway road tests have clocked this baby as high as 34 MPG, making it a great American-made alternative to the imported cars that often dominate the market.

If safety and fuel-efficiency don’t have you convinced, the Malibu’s sleek and refined appearance is sure to persuade everyone from the sassy mom to the bratty teenager.

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni