It's well known that the audience for car magazines and testosterone-fueled TV shows like "Top Gear" is primarily male, though women are increasingly assertive in the car-buying process. According to a NBC/Universal poll, women purchase 60 percent of new cars, 53 percent of used, and influence 85 percent of all acquisitions.

A Heels and Wheels survey adds the salient details that women have more than $5 trillion in car purchasing power, and make 65 to 80 percent of the service and maintenance decisions. Women are projected to earn more than men by 2020, and already have the higher percentage of driver's licenses.

A new University of Michigan survey by Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak throws some light on the car/gender thing. Women are invariably "greener" than men in valuing fuel economy, but they're far less likely than men to have read the fine print about fuel-saving technology. Hybrids they've heard of, but continuously variable transmissions (CVTs)? Not so much.

Only 16.4 percent of women respondents of all ages know what CVTs are and basically how they work, and only 7.6 percent were clued in to cylinder deactivation (which, say, turns a six cylinders into a four when not needed for acceleration). The value of supercharging drew a response from only 11.9 percent of women. 

Angry driver: She wants fuel economy

She wants fuel economy, and doesn't care how she gets it. (Photo: State Farm/flickr)

The corresponding figures for men: CVTs: 45.2 percent; cylinder deactivation: 51.0; stop-start: 60.9; and supercharging: 51.9.

Women were strikingly unable to say if their car actually included any of that technology. More than 30 percent didn't know if they had a CVT; 29.2 percent were clueless about owning cylinder deactivation; and 25.5 percent was unsure about that supercharging thing. Stop-start systems make themselves known, so only 16.1 percent of women threw their hands up.

By no means does this make men smarter than women. It's well known that men are dumber about almost everything else. But when it comes to sports, guns and cars, well, men rule. One caveat: co-author Brandon Schoettle told me, "We didn't actually test anyone's knowledge, so it's possible that males simply claim to know more, without having to prove it to us."

Sam Abuelsamid, a research analyst at Navigant Research, agrees with the men-won't-admit-they-don't know-something analysis. "There's no way that 45.2 percent of male respondents actually know what a CVT is," he said. "A lot of guys would say they know, but really don't. Men are genetically incapable of saying when they don't know something."

Men are definitely the prime movers for buying gas guzzlers. Some 56.2 percent of women said that fuel economy is "very important," compared to just 42.3 percent of males. But women were also more likely to say, "It does not matter to me how a vehicle saves fuel and reduces emissions" (53.5 to 50.1 percent). Men did score higher (74.5 percent) than women (70.5) when asked if they' d be less likely to own or lease a car that required premium fuel, but that may just mean men are cheap.

I love this, by the way: It turns out that political affiliation determines who wears the pants in car-buying decisions. A survey for the Auto Alliance found that "political party affiliation plays a role in these perceptions. Generally speaking, self-identified Democrats are equally split on who has the influence edge, while self-identified Republicans say men have the stronger voice in the purchasing discussion." Here are some actual facts about women car buyers in a Kelley Blue Book infographic. Note that it says that "women feel less knowledgeable and less confident." Women "research more," but maybe not on details of what's under the hood.

Kelley Blue Book infographic about men and woman car-buying habits

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Women care about fuel economy more than men
But a new University of Michigan poll reveals huge gender gaps in car knowledge.