And in rural America, especially, where most places are too far spread for any other means of transportation, the need for gasoline to fuel our vehicles and farm equipment is as essential to our lives as the air we breathe.
Nearly $4 a gallon in Macon County, gasoline prices across the U.S. have reached an all-time high, ranging from a low of $3.60 a gallon in Malden, Missouri, to a peak of $5.60 a gallon in Nipton, California.
And as those numbers go up, we can’t help but cringe every time our gas gauges near the most hated letter of the alphabet . . . E.
Gas station employees at both the Murphy U.S.A and Swifty Oil Station in Lafayette have noticed several startling trends in the way people are purchasing gasoline since the price hikes.
“I’ve seen ten times more customers pay for their gas in loose change,” said Swifty manager Ricky Knight. “It’s really starting to hurt people. People are running out of gas more frequently . . . everyone is struggling.”
Murphy U.S.A attendant Marcella Wingfield has also noticed a trend in loose change, numerous pre-counted baggies of coins used for payment by customers.
“People aren’t filling up their vehicles as much anymore,” she said. “Most people are just putting in a little at a time. I’ve never seen so many customers pay with pocket change. Money has been hard on everyone since gas has gone up so much.”
Speaking with gas consumers, most said they’ve made minor or major adjustments to their daily lives in order to conserve their gas usage.
One such consumer, a mother and the driver of a mini-van, said her family has had to cut back on other areas of their budget to make up for the expense of gas.
“We don’t go anywhere anymore,” she said. “Before, I would take the kids to Rivergate for the day and now we just got to Wal-Mart. We had planned on going to Disneyland but we’ve decided to cancel our vacation this year. We even bought a pool for the kids because we can’t take them to the city park as much because of gas prices.”
Keith Bilbro, a diesel consumer, has had to make up for the expense of gas at his welding business in other ways.
“I’ve had to go up on the price of services because of the gas prices,” he said. “It gets expensive driving to jobs that are further away.”
Some consumers are keeping their tanks less than halfway full on purpose, fearful that someone will sifle the gasoline from their vehicle.
“I don’t even leave the gas can for my lawn mower out anymore,” said one consumer at the pump.
While many of us are changing our habits and cutting back on driving, some people are refusing to let the rise in gas prices put a halt to their summer travel plans.
Out-of-towner Alfred Stevens, of West Virginia, filled up his truck, which was pulling a camper, at Swifty’s last week as he was driving through Macon County.
Used to a price of $4.17 a gallon, Stevens gladly took advantage of the lower gas prices in Lafayette.
“We take the camper and travel every year,” he said. “We drove 8200 miles last year. We weren’t going to let gas prices stop us from traveling this year. Life goes on and you have to enjoy it while you can.”
Unlike Stevens, more than one third of Americans are rethinking their summer vacation plans according to a USA Today survey, 37 percent of them scrapping the idea altogether and one in four deciding not to go as far or stay as long.
Below is a list of gas saving tips, released by the Federal Trade Commission:
The Driver’s Seat
Combine Errands – Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
Consider Carpooling – Find people you work with, live near or have the same interests and take turns driving.
Bus it, bike it, or hoof it – Why not leave your car at home and consider public transportation, a bike ride, or a stroll across town?
The Steering Wheel
Stay within the posted speed limits – Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.
Avoid Unnecessary Idling – It wastes fuel, costs you money, and pollutes the air. Turn off the engine if you anticipate a wait.
Avoid jackrabbit starts and stops – You can improve in-town gas mileage by up to 5 percent by driving “gently.”
Use overdrive gears and cruise control when appropriate – They improve fuel economy when you’re driving on the highway.
Under the Hood
Keep your engine tuned – Tuning your engine according to your owner’s manual can increase gas mileage by an average 4 percent.
Change your oil – You can improve your gas mileage by using the correct grade of motor oil and changing it according to schedule. Motor oil that says “Energy Conserving” on the performance symbol of the American Petroleum Institute contains friction-reducing additives that can improve fuel economy.
Check & replace air filters regularly – Replacing clogged filters can increase gas mileage up to 10 percent, however, Modern engines have computer sensors that automatically adjust the fuel-air mixture as an increasingly clogged air filter chokes off the engine's air supply.
Keep your tires properly inflated & aligned – It can increase gas mileage up to 3 percent.
Follow your owner’s manual recommendation for the right octane level for your vehicle – For most cars, the recommended gas is regular octane. Unless your engine is knocking, buying higher octane gas is a waste of money.
Gas saving gadgets? Steer clear. – Be skeptical about any gizmo that promises to improve your gas mileage. The EPA has tested supposed gas saving devices and found very few provided any fuel economy benefits. In fact, some may cause damage to your car’s engine or cause a substantial increase in exhaust emissions.
Remove any non-essential stuff from the trunk – an extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce fuel economy by up to 2 percent.