Running out of gas because you can’t afford the $100 it now takes to fill the tank in your car? You’re not alone, says the American Automobile Association. “It’s a growing predicament,” says the association. “More than 50,000 people called us for an emergency can of gas in one month, a new high.”
AAA says more than 200,000 drivers in the United States have run out of gas while trying to stretch what’s left in their tanks too far. Many said they had run out of money to get even a few gallons of gas, as prices for a gallon of the stuff threatens to reach $5 and higher.
A car with its emergency lights flashing on the side of Rte.8 late on a recent night was in need of some gas, but he said he had less than five dollars in his pocket and no credit cards to buy some. I took him to a service station near I-81 outside Christiansburg and paid for five gallons in a container to get his SUV started and on his way home.
“Happens a lot more now than it used to,” said the attendant.
It’s a familiar predicament, especially as the incessant run-up in prices has motorists testing the limits of their fuel gauges:AAA fielded 50,787 out-of-gas calls in April, a 32percent jump from the same month last year. More than 200,000 drivers have been similarly stranded this year, the automobile club said. And gas prices have risen precipitously since April, making the financial pain even more acute.
Fuel prices began their most recent surge after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, upsetting energy markets. The U.S. average for a gallon of gas has swelled 62 percent, to $4.96, since last year, AAA data shows. Motorists in 16 states are paying at least $5 a gallon on average, while California has breached $6. Filling up a tank of gas, depending on the vehicle, can cost more than $100, which is the equivalent of 14 hours of after-tax income for certain low-wage workers.
In Christiansburg Wednesday, the gas for a gallon of regular gas was $4.79 a gallon at many stations. A Shell station on Roanoke Street, where I often find less expensive gas, had its regular price at $4.65 cents a gallon, but had already run out of regular and mid-grade gas because of a rush of customers taking advantage of the reduced price. Shell’s “Fuel Rewards” card cut the price at another station to just under $4.50 a gallon
Patrick De Hann, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, says the increase in fuel prices is just one of the many higher costs that most Americans now face.
“If you only have five or 10 bucks left before your next paycheck, that’s what you’re going on,” De Haan told the Post. “This tells us people are really hurting from high gas prices.”
A poll by the paper and Schar School shows 44% of drivers said they are now only partially filling their gas tanks. That percentage rises to 61 for drivers earning less than $50,000 a year — which is more than most Floyd Countians currently earn.
Studies show an increasing number are downsizing their forms of transportation, replacing gas-guzzling SUVs with more fuel-efficient vehicles because they don’t see an end of rapid inflation.
“People will maintain their driving habits in the short term because they do not see an alternative to meeting their goals, whether for commuting or recreational driving. Over a period of months or years, however, many things will change if prices stay high,” says Queen’s University economist Roger Ware in Ontario.
We see changes at our house. I tend to ride one of our motorcycles more because they are fuel-efficient (and fun, too). Our 25-year-old gas-guzzling Jeep Liberty stays at home. Amy’s four-cylinder Mini Cooper gets far better gas mileage, but there’s a catch — it requires premium gas. At this point, however, the cost of gas is outweighed by the savings that come from greater gas mileage.