Don't panic and ditch your gas-guzzlin' truck. At least not yet.

Gas pump handle with money protruding from nozzle

Don't panic over rising gas prices, at least not yet.

Those of us with a gas-guzzling car or truck, watch in horror as pump prices go up almost daily.

We agree things look grim, but we think it's too early to hit the panic button and rush out to replace that gas hog with a newer, less thirsty car.

The last time prices at the pump crested the $4 mark, that's exactly what happened as owners of fuel-thirsty cars and trucks scrambled to trade in their gas guzzler for a high-mileage replacement.

Used-vehicle values tanked, dealers became hard-nosed negotiators, buyers took a bath and six months later, pump prices were back under $2.50 a gallon.

With our current energy policy -- or anti-energy policy -- we may never see $2.50-per-gallon prices again; but even if we don't, our advice is to hang on to that fuel gulper a little longer.

Basically, if you weren't already thinking about trading in your pickup or sport-utility vehicle for other reasons, don't be stampeded into it because of the current spike in pump prices.

Here are three reasons why.

Reason No. 1. The cost of trading in a truck and financing something new may be much greater than the money saved at the pump with a new high-mileage car.

It's not only the money that may be lost on the trade-in, particularly if more is owed on the loan than the truck is worth, but there will be taxes, registration fees and probably increased insurance premiums on that new car.

Ron Montoya is the consumer advice analyst at the auto-advice Web site He told us that most people who trade in a gas guzzler for a gas sipper need at least five years to break even on the deal.

That is, they need five years to save more in fuel than the extra money they spent buying their new, more fuel-efficient car.

You don't have to take his word for it. Edmunds has a calculator that will do the math for you.

Reason No. 2: If worries about that fuel hog losing its value have you thinking about dumping it now, before it's worthless, things aren't as bad as you may think.

Our sources at Atlanta-based Black Book told us that, so far, the rising fuel costs have had very little impact on the resale value of big pickups and SUVs.

Although smaller, more fuel-efficient cars are gaining in resale value, gas guzzlers are holding their value.

Gas prices have risen at a slower, more deliberate rate this time, Black Book told us, allowing owners time to absorb and gradually get at least somewhat comfortable with the increases.

Reason No. 3. Although there are lots of factors that can continue driving up the cost of gasoline, such as an escalation of conflicts in the Middle East or another hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, there is no reason to believe gas prices won't go lower again in the future.

Historically, they always have.

Our source at AAA, an organization that monitors fuel costs across the country, doesn't think prices will continue increasing indefinitely.

In fact, AAA predicts the average price per gallon of gas in the United States will peak at about $4 a gallon around Memorial Day and then begin decreasing.

Our advice before trading in your gas guzzler for a less fuel-thirsty car is to make sure that doing so will actually put money in your pocket.

We think there's plenty of evidence that it won't.

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