HOUSTON -- Gasoline prices in the US have risen to the point where some consumers are getting caught with an empty tank, The Wall Street Journal reported in its Monday edition.
Staffing administrator Joshua Petit said he had spent so much time cruising around in search of gasoline cheaper than the $3.70 a gallon at stations near his northwest Houston office that he spent all his remaining fuel in the effort.
A roadside-assistance service filled his tank by a quarter, he said, enough to get him to a business meeting downtown. There he sheepishly filled his tank, paying $3.89 a gallon for regular-grade gasoline.
"It's a problem," Petit said as he put $58 worth of fuel into his Dodge Stratus sedan recently.
With gasoline prices heading toward the psychologically jarring barrier of $4 a gallon, a level not seen since oil prices broke records in 2008, Petit isn't the only one taking action to reduce fuel expenditures.
Christie Hyde, a spokeswoman for the automotive club AAA, said the number of calls the organization has fielded from members stranded on the roadside has climbed as drivers cutting back on fuel spending forget to cut back on driving.
The club doesn't have a current-year data for the number of empty-tank calls it has received, but Hyde said it could be up by as much as 5 percent from this time last year, when 2 percent of the 29 million assistance calls it received were from people needing gas.
Regular-grade gasoline across the US averaged $3.848 a gallon Thursday, up about 30 cents for the month and 35 percent higher than a year before, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. States such as Alaska and California are already seeing regular gasoline retail for more than $4 a gallon.
Prices will remain high for the foreseeable future as unrest in the Middle East keeps the cost of crude oil elevated. Crude oil closed at $112.29 on Thursday and has been above $110 a barrel throughout April, a level not seen since September 2008.
Also, in the spring, technical and environmental regulations force refiners to switch to their more expensive summer blend, which is cleaner-burning but adds to the price facing consumers at the pump.
Houston resident Fallin Whitt said rising prices have caused her to fill the tank of her 2003 Lincoln Aviator only at discount gas pumps such as those at Costco, Sam's Club or the local Kroger Signature.
With a fill-up costing her $83, Whitt, a student, said she has started struggling with other obligations. "It's affecting my ability to pay bills," she said. "I've had to ask for more time to pay."
Analysts are unsure how changing consumer behavior will eat into fuel demand. Even as some drivers pull back on their gasoline consumption, others who had exited the labor market will return as the US unemployment rate, now at 8.8 percent, continues to fall from its October 2009 high of 10.1 percent.