A gentleman I know recently told me the story of his trip to Los Angeles from his home in 1966 to see a friend. He was driving an old VW Bug that had seen better days, but was still transportation. When he got ready to go back home, he noticed that the gas gauge was low, so he decided to fill-it up before heading to the freeway. All he had in his pocket was a quarter and some pennies. He asked his friend for a nickel. Adding all of the change together, 33 cents, he was able to get a gallon of gas and make it home successfully.
Today, that same man would be a duck sitting in water because all he could get today for 33 cents would be a few drops of gas. That same gallon is now going for $3.50 and up, if you are lucky to find regular gas for even that price. (Diesel fuel used by trucks is already $4.50 a gallon and climbing.)
The price of gas has gone up 20 percent since the first of this year. In the past week, it has gone up 10 cents and for the month, it has increased 20 cents. In actually terms, it has gone up 47 cents since January and is still climbing. Why?
The conventional wisdom and the reasons that the politicians and the media give is that the supply is down and demand is up because OPEC, the cartel that controls most of the oil, has not expanded production since 1979. Furthermore, we are running out of oil and the economy of China is booming and so is its thirst for oil.
More specifically and closer to home, the inventory of gas in the U.S. is lower than normal. Inventories the first three months of the year have dropped by 15 percent. Some say this is the sharpest decline ever because of the lower imports of oil and refinery problems due to maintenance and fires.
As a result of all the good news just mentioned, the Labor Department has just reported that inflation in March has soared at triple the pace expected because of high energy and food prices. Wholesale prices are up almost 7 percent for the past year. Concurrently, the price of diesel fuel used by trucks to transport food and fuel increased 15 percent in March.
Okay. What can we do on a personal level to survive this mess? How about using the bus or train to go to work? The use of public transportation has increased by almost 1/3 since 1995. (Bus use has only increased 1 percent though.) And, if you live way out in the sticks and still want to drive, here are some tips to get more bang for your $4.00 a gallon gas:
Get your heavy foot off of the gas pedal. You can increase your mileage by not pretending you are on the Indy 500 Race Track. Gas mileage decreases after 60 MPH. (Are you listening 5 and 405 Freeway drivers?) In other words, you are paying 20 cents a gallon for every 5 mph over 60.
Keep your car tuned-up and the tires inflated. Replacing a clogged air filter can increase your mileage and keep impurities from messing up your engine. Underinflated tires can lower your case mileage for every one per square inch of underinflated tire.
If you have multiple cars, as a lot of us do, drive the car that gets the best mileage. See if it is possible to stagger your hours and spend less time on the freeways, which are rapidly becoming long parking lots.
Reduce the weight in your car and increase your fuel economy by one or two percent. Don't travel with loads on your car's roof. It can decrease your fuel efficiency by five percent, some experts say.
Try all of the above and see if it makes a difference in your driving experience. As for the excessive oil company profits (and why they occur) and the high price of foods, we will deal with later. First things first: we gotta get to work, so we can pay for the high prices!
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