Tauranga drivers have resorted to buying a second, more fuel-efficient car to use around town to keep their petrol costs down, a Tauranga car dealership says.
Petrol prices soared to record highs of $2.23 a litre last month, but have since dropped to a national average of $2.20 - sparking calls for greater fuel efficiency.
Brad Cunninghame of Pacific Toyota said high petrol prices had changed consumer behaviour in the local car market.
"People have been either buying second cars to do the running around town - and [they] still have a bigger car for trips out of town - or they're look at getting a smaller car with a smaller engine which is more fuel-efficient."
He told the Bay of Plenty Times motorists had become increasingly mindful of fuel costs over the past three years, and were now choosing cars that were cheaper to run.
Prime Minister John Key and the Automobile Association are urging Kiwi drivers to make the switch as petrol prices soar.
AA spokesman Mark Stockdale said New Zealand motorists could save precious dollars 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.
"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.
"That's the kind of thing that motorists can achieve if they move from a large vehicle to a very small one."
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 fuel-efficient 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.
"That's your large station wagon or SUV with a big engine that's really good on the open road when you're carrying lots of passengers and you've got a boot full of gear.
"But, then they use the same car to commute to and from work."
People should choose the appropriate cars for their needs, Mr Stockdale said.
And though many cash-strapped motorists could not afford the switch, it was a realistic option for other Kiwi drivers, who tended to change cars every four years, he said.
Despite our high petrol prices, New Zealanders were relatively well-off compared to other developed countries, Mr Stockdale said.
AA figures showed New Zealand petrol was the sixth cheapest in the OECD.
New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services president Margaret Elsworth agreed fuel-efficient cars would help save families money on fuel bills.
But pricey vehicle upgrades were a low priority for those families already struggling to make ends meet.