Friday Rant: Gas Prices and the Elusive Quest to Save A Few Cents / Gallon

Thriftiness sometimes has diminishing returns. I drive old cars, quite a few in fact (much to my wife's chagrin). Two of them require 93 octane premium gas that is nearing 4 bucks a gallon in the urban Northeast. So naturally, I'm reluctant to fill up until that little amber reserve light has been flashing for more than a few miles. Logical? Of course not. But why spend $100 until you have to? So since misery and dysfunctional behavior loves company, I was relieved to learn that I'm not alone.

Today's LA Times reports that "for the first time since the record-setting gasoline and diesel-price summer of 2008, there has been a double-digit increase in the number of Southern California motorists gambling -- and losing -- a bet that they will find a pump price they can live with before they run out of fuel." I've not yet run out of fuel looking for the best price and the LA Times has helped me to see the error of my ways.

It's embarrassing, but I've actually driven miles to the lowest price gas stations to save as much as 20 cents per gallon. I don't have an hourly rate per se but with traffic, these jaunts can take up to 45 minutes round trip for a fill up savings of $6.25. The price of a good pint at my local pub. That's crazy. To wit -- and it's always comforting to know that others are even more nutty -- "AAA of Southern California says that an average of 15,600 of its members a month are having to make one of those mildly embarrassing 'stranded, need gasoline' emergency calls in the 13 counties within the organization's jurisdiction. That's an increase of 12.9% over the first quarter of last year, and it represents the biggest jump since the California gas-price average hit the AAA all-time-high mark of $4.61 a gallon on June 19, 2008."

A relative bargain at any price is not a bargain when it comes to fuel prices. But what about value added marketing campaigns? Whatever happened to Green Stamps, free mugs, oil checking and windshield cleaning? I digress and show my age. But wait, it's time to take the old yellow diesel out of the garage and tomorrow's Saturday.

- William Busch

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