AUBURN — Happy Earth Day.

If you are like many cash-strapped motorists, you’re probably trying to conserve gas, which is good for the environment.

Mother Earth can thank gas prices headed to $4 a gallon, a price bad for the economy. And it’s a price that triggers consumers to drive less.

As David Hinkley of Turner pumped gas Thursday, he complained that gas prices are affecting him tremendously.

“I work for Auto City. People right now are not buying trucks, SUVs. The value is dropping like crazy.” Customers are buying smaller cars, he said.

Personally, he too has downsized.

He sold his truck and bought a motorcycle “directly as a result of gas prices. I’m 55 years old and I’m going to start riding a motorcycle again,” he said with a chuckle.

When he’s not on his motorcycle, “we drive less, yeah. The combination of gas prices and heating oil prices, it puts a crimp in everything.”

Mike Beecy of Auburn laughed in defeat as he filled his Volvo.

“Look at that, $40 for 10 gallons of gas! It’s crazy.”

Compared to two months ago, “I’m watching where I’m driving. I’m being careful where we go,” Beecy said. “Say there’s a sale somewhere. If something’s $5 cheaper 10 miles down the road, guess what. I’m not going because of the gas.”

He plans to drive less this summer, and wonders how Maine’s tourism will fare with fewer people driving less. “That worries me.”

Adam Lee of Lee Auto Malls said his dealerships are continuing to see a trend of motorists interested in better fuel economy.

Finally, the market has responded, Lee said. There’s a good selection of hybrids and a bigger selection of fuel-miser cars. “For the longest time they weren’t building them. Car companies went bankrupt. Toyota became the largest manufacturer by paying attention to the market.” Now carmakers “are on the right track,” Lee said.

At his Topsham dealership, the bid seller is the Prius, a popular hybrid that gets around 50 or more mpg.

“More people continue to be interested in hybrids.” With gas $1 higher than a year ago, “that always drives interest in cars good on gas.”

Michael Hansen, sales manager of Lee Nissan in Auburn, said customers are concerned with gas mileage. Unlike 2008, people aren’t coming through the door in a panic wanting to unload big trucks or SUVs, “but it’s certainly on people’s minds,” Hansen said.

Examples he offered are couples who used to each drive a SUV, and have downsized one for a car. Or people who used to commute in a gas-guzzling truck or SUV have kept it, but bought an energy-efficient car for the drive to work.

Vinnie Goulette of Emerson Toyota said his customers have long been concerned with fuel efficiency, but recent gas spikes are resurrecting conversations of miles per gallon.

The Corolla is a popular seller. “You don’t have to invest $20,000 to get great fuel economy. It gets around 35 mph.”

Jim Wellehan of Lamey-Wellehan drives a Prius and bought two for his company. “I love it. It teaches you to drive” so less fuel is used. He’s also bought a new diesel delivery truck that gets better mileage and is cleaner burning.

“I’m told the exhaust from it is cleaner than 95 percent of the air we breath,” he said.

All 2011 diesels have higher emission standards, he said. Anxious to operate an environmentally friendlier truck, even though it cost $10,000 more, he special-ordered it last summer “because I like my grandchildren and yours. The truth is global warming seems to be a terrible threat” with rising sea levels, horrific storms, more droughts and floods. “We have to do everything we can for our kids.”

Higher gas prices are “an unpleasant good thing,” Wellehan said, because it forces conservation.

Saying oil is becoming unaffordable, eventually people will have to live closer to where they work and seek alternative fuels.

“If we drive less, walk more, ride a bike, we’d all be a little bit healthier and wealthier,” Wellehan said.

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