Gas prices causing changes in consumer behaviors


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New survey data from AAA finds that two-thirds of Americans felt gas prices were too expensive just a few weeks ago at $3.53 per gallon. Now, with the national average at an all-time high of over $4, Americans may have reached a tipping point.

More than half (59%) said they would make changes to their driving habits or lifestyle if the cost of gas rose to $4 per gallon. If gas were to reach $5, which it has in the Western part of the country, three-quarters said they would need to adjust their lifestyle to offset the spike at the pump.

Among Americans who said they would make changes in response to higher gas prices, a majority (80%) said they would opt to drive less, with some differences among age groups:

– 18 to 34 year-olds are almost three times as likely as those 35 and over to consider carpooling (29% vs 11%), which would likely involve major changes to their daily travel plans.

– Those 35 and over are more likely to favor combining tips and errands (68% vs 52%) and to reduce shopping or dining out (53% vs. 43%).

While many Americans may adapt their daily habits to make up for higher gas prices, it likely won’t have as much of an impact on summer travel. AAA’s survey found that 52% of Americans have plans to take a vacation this summer. Of those, 42% said they would not consider changing their travel plans regardless of the price of gas.

“This survey indicates that many Americans are already making changes to their daily driving behaviors to adjust to rising gas prices,” says Jim Garrity, director of public affairs, AAA East Central. “Motorists are doing what they can to save each day at the pump so that they can prioritize other trips, like travel with family and friends.”

Ripple Effects of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Since the New Year, the national average has continued a steady climb due to strained supply and increased demand. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February caused oil prices to spike further and in the time days since the conflict began, the national average has risen $0.70 (as of March 9). These are numbers not seen at the pump since the financial crisis in 2008, the highest on record until this week (note: AAA historic data is not adjusted for inflation).

While the conflict continues on the far side of the globe, consumers will likely not see relief any time soon. AAA offers the following advice to help drivers ease some of the pain they’re feeling at the pump:

– 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 wastes 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. Underinflation reduces fuel economy, but more importantly, tires low on air affect handling and braking, wear more rapidly and can overheat and blowout.

– Maintain the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Regular maintenance will ensure optimum fuel economy, performance and longevity.

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