High fuel prices leave drivers stuck with empty wallets

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Sonny Alanis was heading home after midnight when his RV pulled up on a Texas country road, and his gas tank no doubt ran out.

The nursing student and his seven passengers, who came out to celebrate his twenty-second birthday This past Saturday in May, he had no choice but to jump in and move on. They drove three miles before someone arrived with fuel, only to find that the four-wheeler still couldn’t run and had to be towed. “Next time, I’ll stay home,” he joked.

It’s a familiar predicament, especially since the ever-rising prices have motorists Test the limits of their fuel gauges: AAA sent 50,787 off-gas calls in April, 32 percent for the same month last year. The Automobile Club said more than 200,000 drivers have been stranded this year. Gas prices have risen sharply since April, adding to the financial pain.

National video reporter Hannah Jewell explains why gas prices are so high and how you can find cheaper gas. (Video: Casey Silvestri/The Washington Post)

Fuel prices started their latest hike after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, upsetting energy markets. AAA data showed that the average price of a gallon of gas in the United States has inflated 62 percent to $4.96 since last year. Motorists in 16 states pay at least $5 a gallon on average, while California is over $6. Filling a gas tank, depending on the vehicle, can cost more than $100, which equates to 14 hours of after-tax income for some low-paid workers.

Rising expenditures, combined with rising costs for food, housing, and other necessities, have made consumers play the inflationary strike game, making tougher choices about how much they can spend and when. Some drivers may do partial filling If they are pressed for money at the end of the pay cycle, says Patrick de Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

“If you only have five or ten dollars left before your next paycheck, that’s what you’re going to do,” de Haan said. “This tells us that people are really getting hurt by higher gas prices.”

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a Washington Post Shar Poll Holds this: 44 percent of drivers randomly contacted between April 21 and May 12 said they only partially filled their car’s fuel tank, a number that rises to 61 percent for drivers with incomes under $50,000.

More than 6 in 10 drivers made the decision to drive less — making fewer trips to the grocery store, for example — while more than 3 in 10 said they drove at lower speeds, which could improve their fuel mileage.

Gasoline demand, measured by a four-week moving average, fell to 8.8 million barrels per day for the week ending May 20, to me US Energy Information Administration. If you exclude 2020, that’s the lowest for that time of the year Since 2013.

Alina Hille, 35, used to cut it in between the fillers but never really ran out until last Monday noon, sidelined on St. Louis Boulevard with her son, 4, and daughter, 7. The three moved to the nearest gas station, where the lender gas could exit with another customer. So Hill, who works as a therapist at a nonprofit organization, bought a one-gallon canister for $1.50, filled it up and was able to get home in time to jump on the Zoom call.

She’s found ways to ease up — she works from home more often and likely walks her kids to school — but the financial challenge is big: As of Wednesday, a full $67-$9 fuel tank will run more than $1. A month ago.

“I find myself not doing things I used to do with the kids because of the gas prices,” Hill said. “We used to go on trips when they were worried or trying to drive to stadiums or destinations they hadn’t visited before.”

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Now, she says, “I’d rather buy groceries.”

Even as gas prices upset the economy, Americans can’t stay out of the way

Back in South Texas, Alanis said fuel prices dictated changes to his commute and college plans. He used to drive about 60 miles from his family’s farm near Alice to Corpus Christi, where he’s in college, in his Chevy Silverado 2500, a big pickup truck he estimated to put out 14 mpg on the highway.

Even with part-time work, the fees became unbearable. “You’re talking about $60 giving me half a tank,” he said.

So he trades his Chevy for a smaller truck that can get better miles. It also converts to online lessons for the upcoming semester.

These wholesale lifestyle changes illustrate a tipping point: Studies have shown that consumers do not adjust their fuel spending much in response to short-term price changes, at least not compared to other everyday purchases. It usually takes sustained increases to influence behaviour, said Roger Weir, an economist at Queen’s University in Ontario.

“People will maintain their driving habits in the short term because they see no alternative to achieving their goals, whether in commuting or recreational driving. Over the course of months or years, many things will change if prices remain high,” Ware said.

If prices remain high, he said, more passengers will switch to public transportation or use shared cars. Consumers will also be more likely to rethink their vehicles and replace them with more fuel-efficient options. And some people will approach work to ease commuting or do more of their work remotely.

The price increases, along with more Americans resuming pre-pandemic driving habits, could contribute to the sudden rise in off-gas calls, According to AAA Repair Systems Director David Bennett.

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Only about 2 percent of all AAA roadside assistance calls each month are fuel related, roughly the same as before the pandemic. In March 2019, when fuel was cheap and there were more vehicles on the road, there were 53,800 fuel-related help calls.

“People have been stuck in their homes for the past two years,” Bennett said. “They are looking for opportunities to go and explore.”

For Danielle Socha, who delivers food for three San Diego-area apps, a tank of gas is about $83. It ran out many times and it became a joke with her friends and family.

“My gas gauge is broken,” she said. “I don’t get a reading in my car and it happens all the time.”

She keeps an empty container in her car so she can walk to a gas station if necessary. Sosha says that she sometimes gets dirty looks from passersby, but she also made use of the kind acts. In the most recent accident, a young man helped push her 2013 Volkswagen Jetta off the road when he saw it waving a white rain jacket in the air.

The price increases have also given rise to strange cases of fuel theft. A San Diego couple called police after they found a hole dug in the bottom of their car, emitting a steady stream of gas, according to March 21 Report From CBS8. Similar incidents have been reported in MemphisAnd the Las vigas and other cities.

Three Florida men have been arrested and face racketeering charges for stealing thousands of gallons of diesel straight from gas stations, transporting it in 300-gallon “gasoline bag” and reselling it, According to Newsweek.

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