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More Drivers Running Out Of Gas And Getting Stranded

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On: Mon, May 2, 2011 at 4:49PM | By: Chris Weiss

More Drivers Running Out Of Gas And Getting Stranded

Remember that episode of Seinfeld when Kramer decided to push the limits of the fuel tank during a test drive? It seems more and more drivers are doing the exact same thing, only not in the name of comedy—in the name of dollar bills.

All commuters experience it on a daily basis: the stomach-dropping sensation of watching way too much of your weekly paycheck get sucked into an automated gas pump. The dollars just tick way faster than the gallons these days and the trip to the gas station—once a rather neutral task—has become the equivalent of a root canal or proctological exam (another great, car-related Seinfeld episode—"The Ass Man").

So people have been putting it off as much as possible—sometimes more than possible. Mid-Atlantic AAA reports that calls from distressed drivers who just used their last fume of gas have risen between 20 and 40 percent recently.

In a year-vs-year comparison, Mid-Atlantic AAA reports that out-of-gas calls were up 39 percent in Washington D.C., 36.8 percent in Maryland, 27.5 percent in Virginia, and 20 percent in Delaware and the greater-Philadelphia area. The figures were for the first 20 days of April as compared to the first 20 days of April 2010.

Proving that disdain for buying gas runs coast to coast, AAA of Southern California reports a 12.9 percent increase in "no gas" calls during the first quarter of 2011.

The LA Times speculates that a form of gas roulette is the cause of such calls. People basically put off buying gas longer and longer in hopes of finding better prices farther down the road. And, of course, those better prices don't really exist—at least, not in any meaningful way that's going to save a significant amount of money. So people end up putting off buying gas until they're fresh out.

While looking for better prices could be one explanation, I think it's simpler than that. People hate buying gas. I've always hated buying gas and I've always been a procrastinator when filling my tank—even when I first started driving and gas dropped all the way down to 89 cents a gallon. The fact that someone's driving indicates he's going somewhere, and chances are that he's going to be spending money (even when your destination is work, you still buy lunch, snacks, coffee, and other things). Putting $10, $15, $20 into the tank takes $10, $15 or $20 out of your pocket—that's money you could be spending on something more fun than refined oil. So procrastinators like me put off buying gas for as long as we can. If I can put it off for an entire day or two, that's a full day or two worth of other stuff I can buy.

Now that gas is costing ridiculous sums like $50 or $100 a pop, it's cutting into people's daily budgets even more—that's not just a coffee and a value meal, that's a nice dinner for two at a good restaurant. So it's not just the worst type of procrastinators putting off buying gas, it's anyone that has a finite daily budget and thinks they can get by an extra day or two by letting the fuel light shine. Of course, that strategy is limited and eventually gas runs out.

As is so often the case with short-sighted money-saving strategies, pushing the limits can cost you more money in the long run. AAA advises that the mechanical problems that can arise from continuously driving on empty can eventually catch up to you and cost you hundreds. Damage to components like the fuel pump, filters, and fuel injectors can quickly cost multiple times a full tank of gas. It might be tempting, but it's in your best interest to avoid it.

Just to bring the Seinfeld angle full circle, take a look at the author of the CarConnection source article: John DeCostanza.


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