As gas prices hit record highs, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) advises consumers that a careful test drive is the key to shopping for a fuel-efficient vehicle.

"Consumers can select from a wide variety of vehicle options that help save money on gas," said Harold B. Wells, NADA Chairman and new-car dealer from Whiteville, N.C. "At the same time, each of these options can affect the feel and performance of the vehicle, which is why it's important for consumers to test drive a number of vehicles before making a purchase."

For example, consumers trying to decide between a four- or six-cylinder engine may find that the four-cylinder option provides better overall fuel economy but has less power and acceleration than the six-cylinder. By test- driving the vehicle in a variety of driving situations, consumers can better evaluate how well the vehicle meets their needs. The same is true when selecting between an automatic or a more fuel-efficient manual transmission.

"With fuel prices at record levels, gas mileage is an important consideration that should be balanced with the customers' overall expectations and requirements for their new vehicle," said Wells.

The National Automobile Dealers Association represents 19,500 franchised new-car and -truck dealers holding nearly 40,000 separate franchises, domestic and import.