The rising cost of petrol is influencing the type of car Wairarapa people buy, a Masterton car dealership says.
Petrol prices reached a record of $2.23 a litre last month but have since dropped to a national average of $2.20, sparking calls for greater fuel efficiency.
Eastwood Motor Group sales manager Gary Allen said car buyers were not as interested in large six-cylinder cars as they once were.
"People are turning away from the V6 gas guzzlers in favour of smaller, four-cylinder sedans," he said. "They opt for the next peg down in terms of size.
"One of the most common questions we get asked is: how much fuel does it use?"
Diesel cars were also becoming more popular, Mr Allen said.
But smaller vehicles were not an option for all buyers, said TRC Toyota Masterton chief executive officer Stewart Marsden.
Mr Marsden said many customers required large cars such as the Toyota Hilux for open road driving, so fuel efficiency was not central to their decision.
He said local drivers were definitely more aware of a vehicle's fuel economy these days but it was not something driving buyers' decisions.
"Now it's in the top 10 of things to consider," Mr Marsden said.
Federated Farmers Wairarapa president Paul McGill said most farmers in the region ran diesel vehicles and he had noticed that companies involved in the rural sector, such as stock and station agents, were also turning to diesel. "They're looking for better value for money and when they replace their fleets they seem to be going diesel," Mr McGill said.
Prime Minister John Key and the Automobile Association are both urging Kiwi drivers to switch to fuel-efficient cars to help combat high petrol prices.
AA spokesman Mark Stockdale said motorists could save precious dollars on their fuel bill by driving more fuel-efficient cars. He warned high petrol prices, spurred on by increases in tax and rising international oil costs, were here to stay, therefore, drivers needed to smarten up.
"A small car with an engine of up to 1.5 litres consumes half as much fuel as a large car over 3.5 litres," Mr Stockdale said.
The most recent 4 per cent increase in petrol tax has seen motorists paying about 90 cents a litre in fuel excise and GST.
The Government signalled last week further hikes in petrol taxes to finance big roading projects, meaning even more pain at the pump for motorists.
However, Mr Stockdale said despite the abundance of such cars on the market, many Kiwi drivers struggled to make the right choice when buying.
"Historically in New Zealand, Kiwis have tended to buy the car that they need for going away on holiday," he said.
"That's your large stationwagon or SUV with a big engine that's really good on the open road when you're carrying lots of passengers and you have got a boot full of gear. But then they use the same car to commute to and from work."
New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services president Margaret Elsworth agreed that fuel-efficient cars would help save families money on fuel bills. But pricey vehicle upgrades were a low priority for families already struggling to make ends meet.
Five Tips to Save Petrol
Regular maintenance checks :
Checking your tyre pressure at least once a month can save you up to 18 cents a litre on fuel.
Lighten the load:
Give your car an early spring clean and remove all unnecessary objects. A heavier vehicle has to work harder and will use more fuel.
Go easy on the accelerator and brake pedals. This will not only save fuel but is also better for your car in the long run.
Watch your air-con:
Air conditioning is more fuel efficient than having your windows down as this creates drag. But don't over do it as it can use up to 8 per cent more petrol.
Turn it off:
As a rule, you should turn your engine off if you're standing still for more than 30 seconds. Also avoid peak hour traffic.
Source: Automobile Association