A van driver who got involved in a traffic dispute with another motorist early yesterday in Prince William County rammed the other motorist's car, fired several shots at him and his passenger, pistol-whipped the motorist and then drove off with his car, police said.

The vehicle was found later in a residential neighborhood of Alexandria, where it had been set on fire. Police said the van had been stolen from the same neighborhood.

Prince William police described the incident as an extreme case of road rage, although both people in the car escaped serious injury. Police are searching for the suspect, who they said might be from the Alexandria area.

The incident began on Route 1 about 1 a.m. yesterday, police said, when a 1988 Chevrolet van cut off a 1991 Hyundai Excel just south of the border with Fairfax County. Police said the driver of the Hyundai sped up, passed the van, honked his horn and then pulled in front of the van. As the two vehicles approached Woodbridge, the van allegedly rammed the car at least three times.

The car turned onto Annapolis Way, which dead-ends as it approaches Interstate 95. Police said the van rammed the car again and sent it crashing into a barrier fence at the end of the street.

"At that point, the man got out of the van and approached the car, armed with a handgun," said police spokesman Dennis Mangan. "He began shooting at the car and into the car. When the driver jumped out to run, the suspect hit him over the head with his gun."

Mangan said the two people in the car, a 20-year-old man from Falls Church and a 19-year-old man from Woodbridge, ran into a nearby field. When they returned to the scene, the man's van was still in the street, but the car was gone.

Alexandria police found the Hyundai about 2:15 a.m. on North Overlook Drive, said Lt. John Crawford, spokesman for Alexandria police. The car was completely engulfed in flames.

Mangan said the Chevrolet van had been stolen from an Alexandria street close to where the Hyundai was abandoned. He said that the victims believed there might have been more than one person in the van but that they were unsure because it was dark.