High Gas Prices: Empty Tanks Are the New Black In California

Those trendy Californians…

Recent jumps in gas prices have seemingly driven them [sic] to adopt a new chic habit: letting their cars run out of fuel on the highway.

California Highway MashupAllstate has announced that the number of Californians running out of gas on the highway jumped 17% in the first 5 months of 2008 compared to the same time period in 2007. Additionally, AAA of Northern California saw a 6.5% increase in stranded “empty-tankers” in April.

Phil Telgenhoff, Allstate assistant field vice president for California had this to say about it:

We cant directly correlate this rise in the number of people running out of gas to the rise in prices at the pump, but anecdotally we know that consumers are trying hard to stretch their dollar and sometimes that means stretching fuel into fumes.

In California, the highway patrol hands out free gas to stranded motorists and AAA will do the same. There has been speculation that this is one of the reasons people choose to let their tanks go empty.

If it’s true, this is a silly strategy because people who are known to abuse the system stop getting the free gas. Plus, it can end up costing the driver a thousand dollars or more when they have to replace a dead fuel pump.

I can’t believe this is really a problem, so please excuse the following semi-sadistic tirade: It seems to me the best solution would be to rip the gas tanks from repeat offenders’ cars, strap them to the drivers’ backs, and make them walk home.

Bada-bing, bada-bang — you’ve just doled out the punishment and taken another pollution-causing car off the road in one fell swoop.

However, Allstate, being the good corporate entity they are, came up with a slightly less confrontational response and has issued some fuel conservation tips:

  • Slow down.
    • Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas.
    • Every 5 miles per hour that a person drives over 60 miles per hour is like paying an additional $0.15 per gallon for gas.
    • Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.
  • Keep your car maintained and running smoothly with regular tune-ups and upkeep.
    • Checking and replacing air filters can improve your car’s gas mileage by as much as 10 percent, and will help protect your engine.
    • Keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent.
    • You can also improve your gas mileage by 1-2 percent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil
  • Use your engine wisely.
    • Using cruise control on the highway will help you maintain a constant speed.
    • Using overdrive gearing helps keep your car’s engine speed down, saving gas and reducing engine wear.
  • Be smart about driving.
    • Run errands together, rather than taking separate trips.
    • Take advantage of carpools, mass transit and telecommuting options.
    • If you can, stagger your work commute to avoid peak rush hours.
  • Keep your car light.
    • Too often cars become long-term storage facilities. Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones.
    • An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2 percent.
  • Make smart vehicle choices.
    • If you own more than one vehicle, drive the one that gets the best gas mileage whenever possible.
    • Also, consider purchasing a more fuel efficient vehicle.

I’d also like to add something to the above list which a company that sells car insurance wouldn’t dare to: ride your bike if at all possible.

We’ve written about many of the above strategies before, and Edmunds.com has done its own field testing of some of them, but a little repetition never hurt anybody now, did it?

As for the last point suggesting you buy a new, more fuel efficient car, consider that it might be better to buy a used vehicle with decent fuel economy or to convert your old gas car to electric before buying a new one.

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Image credits: U.S. Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons, and Jacob Bøtter’s Flickr library under Creative Commons

Sources: Allstate press release, Sacramento Bee


Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.