A couple of years ago we bought our first SUV, mainly because it was half price and had enough car seats for all the grandchildren -- plus a built-in TV. No longer did I have to sing the Wiggles song, "Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy," or point out all the Big Trucks we passed to keep the kids amused. Looney Tunes would take care of them.

Then the economy deflated like a bad tire, the price of gas blew up faster than an air bag, and we were left holding the keys to a car that barely got 15 miles to the gallon. We could only afford to drive it to the gas station and back before having to refill the bottomless tank with what appeared to have become liquid gold.

It was time to do something about this money pit before we went bankrupt. While I hated to give up on our "luxury car" (heated seats!), I searched the Internet for a site that would tell me the value of my car so I could sell it on eBay, take the cash, and buy a small, money-saving vehicle that got at least 16 miles to the gallon.

After checking Blue Book and sending my car stats to AutoTrader.com, I got the results -- and they were better than I expected. They must have missed the part where it only got 15 miles to the gallon, but I didn't have the heart to tell them. Now we wouldn't have to pay to have the car towed away. They would pay us -- almost enough to buy a new Smart Car. It was a start.

My husband and I had very different ideas about what kind of car we'd buy next. I had my heart set on an adorable yellow Mini Cooper Countryman at the local car lot, but after a test drive around the block, my husband deemed the car too small for our purposes -- hauling around grandkids, carrying suitcases, packing groceries and fitting in garage sale finds. He had his eye on the Volt, the all-electric car that he said would be "the car of the future."

"You never have to go to the gas station!" he said. "Just plug it in and take off down the road ..." At least for a few miles until you have find an outlet and recharge the battery again. And what about the electric bill? Our bill is already too high. No doubt we'd double it by plugging in a whole car every night.

So we compromised and decided to check out a car that was somewhere in between -- the Prius. We have friends who own a Prius, and they love it: "Drives like a dream. Rarely have to go to the pump. Plenty of room." Yadda, yadda, yadda.

OK, so we'd take a look at this miracle car -- but just a look. It wasn't like we had to buy something immediately. That old SUV would surely last until the final drop of gas in the world had been consumed, right? Besides, we're not impulse buyers. We like to shop around, sleep on it and not make any snap decisions.

Yeah, well, they don't call them car salesmen for nothing ....

Next column: There's a new car sitting in our driveway. What just happened?

Reach Penny Warner at www. pennywarner.com.