Take good care of your current car. Given what the proposed Environmental Protection Agency/Department of Transportation regulations are going to do to new vehicles, you may want to hang on to it for as long as possible.

Pursuant to federal law as well as a 2007 Supreme Court case, these two agencies have proposed a sharp increase in vehicle fuel economy. The proposal requires a 5 percent annual increase in fuel economy starting with the 2012 model year, reaching 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Note that this would be the vehicle fleet average, a figure that only a handful of models now meet.

Technological improvements can and have led to annual improvements in vehicle efficiency without sacrificing size, performance, safety, or affordability. But past Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards pushed too far. This has raised sticker prices, but the real cost comes from the fact that the standards necessitated a downsizing of cars that has adversely affected safety. According to a 2002 National Research Council study, the highway death may have been increased by 2,000 annually thanks to these standards.

This new round of regulations is the most aggressive ever, forcing vehicle mileage increases very quickly. It may well prove to be a backlash in the making in the years ahead, as new car buyers learn that the vehicles they want at the prices they are willing to pay are no longer available, thanks to Uncle Sam. And the required downsizing could further add to the government-caused highway death toll from too-small vehicles.