There are plenty of car options for singles or couples looking to downsize in this new era of $3-plus-a-gallon gas prices. But what’s a family accustomed to a spacious, gas-guzzling SUV supposed to do? Consumers are dealing with the dilemma in various ways, whether it’s buying a designated commuter car for the family breadwinner or trading in the 8-cylinder soccer mom-mobile for a car with a smaller engine. Whatever the scenario, buyers are finding that there’s no easy way to raise fuel efficiency without sacrificing something. In many cases, that something comes down to size and torque. Candice Hollinger, a Santa Clarita mother of three, is considering trading in her Ford Sport Trac for a Ford Escape to gain six to eight miles per gallon. “It’s smaller than my truck,” she said. “But my kids are in a lot of sports … I’m doing a lot of driving. … It’s because of the gas.” Hollinger and her husband would like to buy the hybrid version of the Escape, but that would add a good $7,000 to the price, and she isn’t sure if that falls within their budget. The Hollingers bought the Sport Trac at Galpin Ford in North Hills and would like to remain loyal to the dealership. But Candice said they plan to check Toyota’s offerings, too. “I’m open to it,” she said. Efren Carvajal, out on a recent car shopping trip with his two daughters, set out looking for a Fit, Honda’s new subcompact. But the dealership in Woodland Hills he visited is sold out, so he’s thinking about a Civic sedan. “I just bought a (Toyota) Sequoia seven or eight months ago,” he said. “It’s good with the kids, but I didn’t know what was going to happen with gas prices.” Despite the spike in prices at the pump in the past six weeks, a lot of buyers have mixed feelings about hybrids, dealers said. While the savings in fuel is very attractive, higher sticker prices cancel that out for a lot of people. “I don’t think you can recoup that unless you drive 20,000 miles a year,” said Ali Vafee, a sales manager at Galpin Ford. The main motivating factor at the moment seems to be reducing the number of engine cylinders. “People are selling their Expeditions and Tahoes and trading them in for a Honda CR-V or a RAV4,” said David Noriani, co-owner of Happy Auto Sales in Panorama City. “People want to go to four cylinders from eight.” Joey White, a salesman at Superior Nissan in Carson, said family buyers are moving from 8-cylinder SUVs to 6-cylinder minivans, such as a Quest. “They’re getting rid of the Tahoes, the Suburbans, the Sequoias,” he said. Switching from a V-8 to a V-6 is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of fuel economy. But the truth is, drivers could probably conserve as much or more gas by slowing down on the highway, checking tire pressure and shutting off the A/C when driving uphill, said James Hossack, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc., an automotive research company based in Tustin. But consumers don’t want to do those things. “We do focus groups, and you ask if they would slow down on the highway,” said Hossack. “And they say, No way. I’ve got places to go.’ A/C? Oh no, it gets hot here in California.’ Tire pressure? No, I haven’t done it this year. I did it last year.’” Instead, drivers serious about fuel economy usually commuters are making more radical changes in what they drive, say from a big American-made SUV to a trim Japanese sedan. “I had a guy with a Chevy Envoy who bought a Sentra. He was commuting between Oxnard and Santa Barbara, spending $250 to $300 a week. He cut the gas price in half.” Rochelle McCarty of San Pedro bought a fire-engine red RAV4 last week on the advice of her mom, a Concordia University professor who was putting lots of miles on her Toyota 4Runner driving between campuses and bought the RAV to save on gas. “She was spending $200 a week on gas,” said McCarty. Commuters are also opting to buy second cars to do the bulk of the driving, while keeping their gas guzzlers for weekend cruising. “This month and last month I sold 15-20 cars that were second cars,” said Noriani. “People live in Palmdale and work here … will buy a Honda Civic and then they keep their car for the weekend.” Whatever Efren Carvajal, the car buyer in Woodland Hills, ends up buying, he plans to unload not the Sequoia, but his Nissan Frontier truck. He said his wife works close to home, so she can commute in the Sequoia. Meanwhile, he will chauffeur his daughters around to their sports and activities in the new economy car. But he’ll still get to drive the new SUV on Saturdays and Sundays. Of course, not all Southern Californians are rushing out to replace their cars to get better mileage. Jose Rivas, financial manager at Super Calidad, a dealership in Canoga Park, said the immigration debate has trumped gas prices and put the brakes on his sales in the last month. “If people have $3,000 around to spend on a car, they’re going to wait,” he said. Illegal immigrants, which he said make up more than half of Calidad’s client base, are concerned about the outcome of proposed immigration laws. If the proposals pass, they will expect to get driver’s licenses and will be more willing to buy. Other drivers are simply ignoring high gas prices and sticking to a you-are-what-you-drive outlook. “We don’t really think about gas yet,” said Christina Raffalo, 27-year-old owner of a Chevrolet Suburban. “You need something reliable, you need something to speed away from all those unregistered drivers out there,” she said. Still, Raffalo does have gas mileage on her mind. “I put a hybrid sticker on the back of the car,” she said. “I think that helps.” firstname.lastname@example.org (818) 713-3662 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!