As gas prices rise, Americans continue to speak with their wallets.

New car fuel economy levels in the U.S. reached a record high for the third straight month in March, reflecting efforts by the American public to curb refueling spending by buying more hybrids and four-cylinder cars, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

March's new cars averaged 24.1 miles per gallon, up from 23.9 miles per gallon in February, UMTRI said. Overall, newly purchased 2012 model-year vehicles are averaging 23.4 miles per gallon, up from the 2011 model-year average of 22.5 mpg. Fuel-efficiency numbers are up 13 percent from 2008, when vehicles had an average fuel economy of 20.8 miles per gallon.

The fuel-economy figures reflect efforts by Americans to buy less thirsty vehicles to combat rising gas prices, which are up about 60 cents a gallon since the beginning of the year and are approaching the $4 level.

In March, both Toyota and General Motors set monthly U.S. sales records with their Prius hybrid and Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in vehicles, respectively. Other models experiencing a surge in sales included the Nissan Leaf battery-electric and Volkswagen's diesel models.

*UPDATE: Using its own metrics, TrueCar calculates the average fuel economy to be 23.4. See the release after the jump.
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Average Fuel Economy for New Cars Sold In March 2012 Rises To 23.4 MPG According to TrueCar.com's TrueMPG
Industry Average Fuel Economy Rises 3.1 MPG From March 2008

SANTA MONICA, Calif., March 12, 2012 – TrueCar.com, the authority on new car pricing, trends and forecasting, today provided actual fuel economy numbers from March light vehicle auto sales that indicate TrueMPGTM increased to 23.4 mpg in March 2012 compared to 22.0 mpg in March 2011, and increased from February 2012 at 23.2 mpg. Just four years ago, in March 2008, TrueMPG was 20.3 mpg.

"Gas prices are nearing $4 per gallon nationwide and consumers are getting reluctant to pay any additional money at the pump when buying a new vehicle," said Jesse Toprak, Vice President of Market Intelligence at TrueCar.com. "Consumer buying behavior has shifted and vehicles today are more fuel-efficient than ever, contributing to significant gains in fuel economy of over three miles per gallon since 2008."

Below is how the top seven manufacturers fared comparing overall mpg, broken out by car and truck mpg:

Average TrueMPG
Average Car TrueMPG
Average Truck TrueMPG
Manufacturer
Mar-12
Mar-11
Change
Mar-12
Mar-11
Change
Mar-12
Mar-11
Change
Chrysler
19.7
18.8
0.9
22.8
21.5
1.3
18.1
18.0
0.1
Ford
22.4
21.0
1.3
26.8
25.2
1.6
19.7
18.7
0.9
GM
21.6
20.9
0.7
25.3
24.2
1.1
19.0
18.7
0.3
Honda
25.4
24.1
1.3
28.6
27.1
1.5
22.8
21.2
1.6
Hyundai/Kia
28.1
26.0
2.1
29.7
27.4
2.3
23.7
23.5
0.2
Nissan
23.9
23.3
0.7
26.5
25.5
0.9
20.4
20.2
0.2
Toyota
25.4
23.4
2.0
30.9
28.2
2.7
19.5
18.8
0.6
Industry
23.4
22.0
1.4


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