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Soaring gas prices leave more running on empty

John Eash of Austintown sees the cost of putting 21 gallons of diesel in his company Ford Fx4 Off Road pickup truck is $102 Thursday afternoon at Sheets gas station on North Canfield Niles Road in Austintown. AAA reports that in March there was an uptick in people running out of gas which seemed to correspond with rising prices at the pump.

AUSTINTOWN — “$102 — not that bad,” John Eash of Austintown said as he noted the cost of filling up his company Ford F-150 FX4 off-road diesel pickup truck at the Sheetz station on North Canfield Niles Road.

Eash put more than 21 gallons into the pickup’s 23-gallon tank Thursday afternoon.

A few minutes later and a few pumps over, Jacob Teeters of North Jackson leaned against his silver sedan as he filled up. He still had a quarter of a tank, but admitted that most of the time he “lets it go to the end.”

Teeters said he’s never run out of gas — but recalled being with his father once when he ran out.

The American Automobile Association reported an uptick in motorists running out of gas while on the road in March. The increased number of calls appears to correspond with the mid-month bump in gas prices, said Jim Garrity, director of public affairs for AAA East Central.

Crude oil prices, and subsequently gas prices, rose in March amid global supply concerns after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the end of the month, President Joe Biden ordered the release of 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve for six months, which pulled record-setting prices at the pump back down. Still, the national average for a gallon of regular gas on Friday was $4.13 and the Ohio average was $3.80, according to AAA.

In all of March, AAA East Central responded to more than 1,000 out-of-gas calls. AAA East Central covers Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Garrity said the uptick was small but noticeable, and could point to a worrisome trend as motorists head into the summer months, when demand for gas and prices typically are higher.

“Demand for gasoline in the month of March went down. So, if our out-of-gas calls were increasing despite more people staying off the road — probably because of higher gas prices — that’s concerning to us at AAA, being that we’re going into the time of year when gas prices typically go up anyway.”

Mike Capito, operations manager at Sorice Towing in Liberty, said he absolutely has noticed an increase in out-of-gas calls. Before prices spiked, Capito said Sorice rarely got more than one out-of-gas call a month. Now, the towing company is fielding around five calls a week, usually for motorists running out of gas on Interstate 80.

“They just thought they could make it. That’s what I hear,” Capito said.

He said when possible, Sorice drivers bring the stranded motorists gas, though sometimes the company tows vehicles to gas stations.

Capito said about half of the drivers who get stuck are locals, and half are people passing through the area on the highway.

“Fuel prices are just killing everybody, I know that. That’s what they’ve been saying,” he said.

Other area towing companies such as Carl’s Towing and Emerine Towing, both of which serve Trumbull and Mahoning counties, said they haven’t noticed an increase in out-of-gas calls, though Emerine’s does take out-of-gas calls and a representative noted that several such calls came in this past week.

Garrity said running out of gas potentially can be dangerous for motorists and expensive when mechanical problems arise — when fuel pumps are run close to empty on a regular basis, the damage can cost as much as $500 to repair, according to AAA.

AAA recommends filling up when a vehicle gets down to a quarter of a tank.

Estell Liming of Lordstown said Thursday that she usually doesn’t let her tank get below half-full.

“I don’t want to run out of gas in Pennsylvania,” Liming said, noting that she drives to the state every day for work.

She said her Pennsylvania co-workers who live close to the state border come to Ohio for cheaper gas.

As far as those rising prices go, Garrity said gas prices “cooled off in the last week or so,” but that could change come summer, when people are driving more for trips and using an already more expensive “summer blend” gas.

He said even in parts of the country where winter is mild, the blend of gas changes by season to provide better performance for vehicles. The components in summer gas are more expensive for refiners, and the cost gets passed down to consumers.

By the end of this month, most parts of the country will be using summer blend, Garrity said.

At the same time, AAA, which also handles travel arrangements, has noticed people are excited to travel. AAA will do its next big travel survey for Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m curious to see that,” Garrity said. “Travel offices have been very busy — a lot of people booking cruises, and we’re seeing more people with questions about larger scale trips.”

For now, AAA recommends saving on gas by lightening loads and reducing trips, using cruise control to maintain a constant speed, keeping tires properly inflated and maintaining vehicles so they’re in their best working condition.

AAA also recommends avoiding “jackrabbit” starts and hard acceleration, which increase fuel consumption, and driving the speed limit. On the highway, aerodynamic drag causes fuel economy to drop off significantly as speeds increase over 50 miles per hour, according to AAA.

avugrincic@tribtoday.com

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