Dealing with record gas prices

By Johnny Jackson


The price of gas is setting yet another record high.

On Monday, crude oil prices surpassed $116 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), as national average prices for gasoline toppled $3.50.

Gary Phillingim, of McDonough, said he is no longer surprised by the almost-daily record spikes in gas prices. He is paying 73 cents more per gallon than he did last year. It is a steep difference, but not as steep as the difference he would have to pay in diesel fuel.

"My biggest deal is the diesel," Phillingim said. In one year, diesel prices have increased by about $1.25 per gallon on average. The increase has prompted Phillingim to, for the moment, retire his Ford F250 diesel engine pickup that he bought in 1999.

"Fuel was 72 cents for diesel, then," he said. "And regular was $1.39 a gallon. It's the reason I bought the truck."

He said his pickup is still in good condition. But he now drives his passenger car primarily to save money on gas.

The U. S. Department of Energy advises that motorists can increase their gas mileage by up to 33 percent just by being more sensible in their driving habits - not speeding or rapidly accelerating in traffic.

Gas mileage typically decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 miles per hour. A rule of thumb is that every 5 mph a person drives over 60 mph is the equivalent to paying an additional 20 cents per gallon on gas.

You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every 1 pound per square inch drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer. Drivers should check tire pressure regularly.

However, selecting which vehicle to purchase may be the most important fuel-economy decision motorists can make.

The difference between a car that gets 20 miles per gallon and one that gets 30 miles per gallon is about $808 per year. For 15,000 miles of driving at an average fuel cost of $3.23 per gallon, the difference in cost would be $4,038 over five years.

The cost of gas

U. S. oil refinery output last week was at its lowest level (at 81 percent) in nearly three years, since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, according to the Department of Energy.

Analysts say the decline is a voluntary response and not a reflection of major repair problems. The crude oil rally and weakening dollar, nonetheless, drove retail prices higher.

"Unfortunately, there is nothing on the horizon that would serve as an obstacle or disincentive to the crude oil rally," said Gregg Laskoski, spokesman for American Automobile Association (AAA) Auto Club South.

"Until we see the dollar make significant gains versus the euro, we cannot expect crude oil or retail prices to fall," Laskoski added.

NYMEX crude oil closed Friday at $116.69 per barrel, and remained above $116 through Monday.

In metro Atlanta, regular unleaded gas prices average about $3.49 per gallon, up from $3.36 a week ago and $3.23 a month ago. One year ago, the average price was $2.76.

Diesel prices averaged $4.16 per gallon compared to $2.92 this time last year, when diesel was cheaper than premium and mid-grade fuel. Since April 2007, per-gallon diesel has increased by an average of $1.25.

Gas prices that averaged $2.93 per gallon last summer are projected to average $3.54 per gallon this travel season.

Diesel fuel, which averaged $2.85 per gallon last summer, is projected to average $3.73 this summer.


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