High Gas Prices Hit Consumers Pocketbook Hard
By Eileen Alt Powell
NEW YORK (AP) – Robert Smith wanted to take his children to Walt Disney World in Florida this summer, but a recent trip to the gas station in the family’s SUV made him reconsider his travel plans.
"When you sit there at the pump and it goes past $20 and then past $30 and then past $40, you really understand what’s happened to gas prices,’’ said Smith, of Rockford, Ill.
So instead of driving more than 1,000 miles south to Florida with his wife and four children, Smith will be driving about 100 miles north to the Wisconsin Dells resort area.
"The $300 or $400 we save on gas can be better spent wherever we are,’’ Smith said.
Many American families may be looking harder this year at when and how they travel by car because of the rising cost of fuel. Gasoline prices have been setting records in recent weeks amid high crude oil costs and tight refinery capacity, and experts say they could go higher still during the summer vacation season.
"A lot of people still haven’t made adjustments, and I think it’s because they think there’s a short-term spike and prices will go back down,’’ said Kateri Callahan, president of the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy in Wash-ington, D.C. "I don’t see that happening, and big gas bills are going to force some consumers to change what they do.’’
Some already are, she added. She spoke of neighbors who have two cars but are leaving their SUV in the driveway and taking their fuel-efficient com-pact car out for weekend errands.
Callahan also said there were a num-ber of steps consumers can take to reduce their gas costs.
"Little things add up,’’ she said. "If you properly inflate your tires, use the right grade of motor oil, keep the en-gine tuned and regularly replace air filters, you can get 10 percent to 18 percent better gas mileage.’’
She also recommends:
•Plan ahead to determine the most gas-saving itinerary by combining sev-eral errands into a single trip.
•Consider alternatives to commuting by car to work, such as car pools and ride-share programs or mass transit.
•Try to avoid driving during rush hours.
•Rediscover biking and walking.
"The notion of walking or cycling to work is one we’d advocate,’’ said Callahan, who sometimes bikes 22 miles from a Maryland suburb to her Washington office.
Brant Welch, 33, has adopted a num-ber of strategies to hold down the cost of gas on his 45-minute compute from his home in Lexington, Ky., to his job as a media specialist at Centre College in Danville.
He’s swapped his SUV for a more fuel-efficient Honda Accord and he watches for gas stations with the best prices.
"I try to fill up on Monday and Tues-day, because prices seem to be lower at the beginning of the week,’’ Welch said. "Prices seem to go up later in the week, possibly because demand is higher ahead of the weekend.’’
Welch also often bikes to his girlfriend’s house on weekends.
"In the past, I would have biked over there to get exercise,’’ he said. "Now I do it because it saves on gas money.’’
Nancy Dunnan, editor of the "Travel-Smart’’ newsletter, said families that want to hold down driving on their vacations this summer should consider vacationing in nearby states and nation-al parks or forests.
"There are a lot of bookings already because the parks are so popular this year,’’ Dunnan said.
She added: "For a long time, they were unimaginatively managed. Now a lot are setting up programs like lectures, hikes, day camps for the kids. ... And many have shuttles or trollies so you don’t have to drive around the parks once you get there.’’
Dunnan also offers some tips to help motorists save on gas:
• If you’re on the road, start looking for a station when your tank is half full "so you can comparison shop.’’
• Turn off the air conditioner.
• Consult a map in advance to de-termine the most direct route to your destination if sightseeing isn’t an issue.
• Pack light, because "for every 100 pounds of junk in your trunk, your car loses about 1 percent of fuel economy.’’
• Slow down, because cars generally consume less gas at slower speeds.