PITTSBURGH — The latest survey by AAA found 80% of Americans questioned said they would make changes and drive less due to the high price of gas.
But will they?
The AAA travel agents have been very busy this year as COVID-19 restrictions ease. “They are getting phone calls asking what is available as far as domestic travel and beyond,” said Jim Garrity, director of public affairs for AAA East Central.
One of the side effects of the pandemic is a pent-up demand to get back on the road and get out of town, and that desire might overpower the high cost at the pump.
“VisitPittsburgh is quite optimistic about leisure travel this spring and summer, despite the price of gas,” said Jerad Bachar, president of the region’s tourism group.
“We believe there remains significant pent-up leisure travel demand due to the pandemic, despite 2022 being the third ‘COVID summer,’” he said.
According to VisitPittsburgh, local hoteliers are backing that up by reporting fully rebounded bookings for life events such as weddings, parties and reunions, with reschedule rates back to prepandemic levels.
Certainly, spiking gas prices have caught the attention of consumers and politicians alike. Georgia and Maryland have temporarily suspended their gas taxes, and other states are considering that option.
“We’ve recently noticed some destinations are actually actively targeting drive-in tourists with slogans that pointedly remind travelers that they’re ‘just one tank away,’ and you’ll see forms of that messaging in our marketing as well,” Bachar said.
Fuel prices have dominated the headlines of late.
“It’s kind of been a roller-coaster ride for crude oil prices, which peaked around $125 (a barrel) following the invasion of Ukraine and then went up again. Plus, we are heading into the time of year where demand goes up and we start to consume summer blend gasoline,” Garrity said.
Summer blend is more expensive because it is made not to evaporate as much in high temperatures. “Prices generally go up in the spring and hover around the same level for summer,” he said.
That normal trend was disrupted by the pandemic and now by Russian sanctions and the war in Ukraine.
What that will mean for the summer travel season isn’t entirely clear.
“When AAA surveyed consumers about what their breaking point would be in terms of gas prices, the majority said when it hit the $4 mark per gallon, they would make changes to their driving habits,” Garrity said.
That means more carpooling, combining trips and errands, reducing the amount of time spent on the road, and cutting back in other areas such as dining out.
“Consumers place an importance on road trips and travel and will cut back in other areas,” Garrity said
“In my case, I drive a midsize pickup truck, and my wife drives a sedan. I am driving the sedan a lot more because it is more efficient burning fuel,” he said.
If you want to have your trip and save money, too, AAA has several tips for stretching a gallon of gas.
“Running your car down to E is not one of them,” Garrity said.
The auto association saw a jump last month in “out of gas” calls indicating people are pushing the limits of their vehicles’ capacity to operate on fumes.
“It’s not good for the engine and could cost you more in repairs.”
Fuel saving tips
Here are some tried-and-true tips from AAA for getting the most miles per gallon.
— Slow down and drive the speed limit. On the highway, aerodynamic drag causes fuel economy to drop off significantly as speeds increase above 50 mph.
— Reduce trips and lighten your load. Limit the amount of cargo in your vehicle when possible. Combine errands, and possibly aim to get all of your errands done on one day of the week. Also, consider using the more fuel-efficient vehicle in your household more often.
— Avoid “jackrabbit” starts and hard acceleration. These actions greatly increase fuel consumption. Accelerate smoothly with light to moderate throttle. This allows the automatic transmission to upshift into higher gears sooner, reducing engine rpm and saving fuel.
— Avoid extended idling to warm up the engine. Even in winter, idling and warming up an engine are unnecessary and waste fuel.
— Look ahead. When approaching a red light or stop sign, take your foot off the gas early and allow your car to coast down to a slower speed until it is time to brake.
— Use cruise control to help maintain a constant speed and save fuel. However, never use cruise control on wet roads because a loss of vehicle control could result.
— Keep tires properly inflated. Under inflation reduces fuel economy, but more importantly, tires low on air affect handling and braking, wear more rapidly, and can overheat and blow out.
— Maintain the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Regular maintenance will ensure optimum fuel economy, performance and longevity.