Maybe you're driving a full-size SUV; a big, crew-cab pickup; or a large, loaded luxury sedan. And maybe you're getting a little tired of buying this big-time tippler a couple of dozen $4 drinks every time it bellies up to the petroleum bar.

You've thought of unloading this petroholic, but maybe you're a bit reluctant, possibly because you really love it, because you think gas prices might pull back, or because you want to keep it until you've paid the loan down enough so that it isn't worth less than you owe on it.

Here's one way to deal with having to sign a $4 IOU every time you drive 14 miles. Get yourself an inexpensive, used small sedan with nifty fuel mileage. Then use that econo-car as much as possible, particularly for gas-slurping, stop-and-go driving, like the bumper-to-bumper commuter crush on the Blue Route and Sure-Kill Expressway.

Saving all that gas during the week with the economy car will then leave you feeling self-righteous enough to haul out the Big Bopper for short, soul-suturing weekend trips to church and the country club.

I have some economy car suggestions, and they may surprise you because they don't include the best Scroogemobiles - hybrids and diesels. But when you are trying to keep costs down, you don't want to deal with expensive used hybrids and soaring diesel fuel prices.

I've selected a trio of 2000 compact and subcompact sedans for your consideration because I thought they were fuel-efficient and particularly good values. But they hardly represent a corner on nice, fuel-sipping small four-doors. By 2000, virtually all of the manufacturers were fielding one.

The cars suggested here are subcompacts, except for the compact Chevy Prizm. They are all base sedans with manual transmissions and 75,000 miles on them, which is about 20,000 miles less than average for a 2000 model. Their Kelley Blue Book values are given for a private-sale car in "good" condition and for a vehicle in "excellent" condition sold by a new car dealer. The EPA mileage estimates given for these cars have been corrected to correspond with the new, more realistic government ratings.

Chevrolet Prizm. (Private sale, $4,050, dealer, $5,800. EPA city 27, highway 34.)

Built by GM and Toyota in a joint venture, the Prizm sedan ran down the assembly line in Fremont, Calif., with the Toyota Corolla and was virtually identical to it. And so it shared the economy, refinement and durability that have made the Corolla compact one of the world's most popular cars.

So, why did I pick the Prizm clone over the Corolla? Because I didn't think you should spend an extra $625 to buy the same car with a Toyota nameplate, however flattering the Toyota folks may find that.

For 2000, the Prizm's techy, 1.8- liter four was pumped up to 125 horsepower, which made it reasonably lively, particularly with the five-speed manual gearbox. This car is also smooth-riding and quiet for an economy car, and has a relatively roomy 12.1-cubic-foot trunk.

Honda Civic DX. ($6,155 private, $8,060 dealer. EPA city 27, highway 33.)

The Civic is small car royalty and has the above resale value to prove it. The car is well-known for its reliability and durability, as well as exceptional build quality. Even in its lower-powered models, like this 106-horse sedan, it is still fun to drive. Steering is quick and affords good road feel. It handles nicely, although when pushed hard, the engine gets a bit buzzy and there's some body lean.

Ford Focus. (Private, $3,330, dealer, $4,935. EPA city 24, highway 32.)

Yes, these cars had some teething problems early on and were the subject of several recalls. But after Ford fixed them, they have proved to be solid citizens, and good values.

Like the Civic, the 2000 Focus is roomy for a small car and fun to drive. And like the Civic, this car derives nice handling from a fully independent suspension, and boasts superb steering.

The engine in that base Focus was the 110-horsepower Ford Escort engine, which was as bulletproof as it was simple. More upscale models got a techier, 130-horse four.

Contact Al Haas at