Drivers seek relief from spiking fuel prices

Published 10:05 am Thursday, March 24, 2022

By Bonnie Coblentz

MSU Extension Service

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Gas prices have been inching up for months, but the recent overnight increases have many people looking for ways to keep costs down.

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According to AAA, gas prices in Mississippi average $3.99 per gallon of regular unleaded. A month ago, that average was $3.14; a year ago, it was $2.48.

Becky Smith, director of the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Economic Education and Financial Literacy, said Mississippi gas prices are lower than the national average.

“Our prices are lower because we have lower taxes on gas and we are closer to refineries, which reduces transportation costs that make up about 30% of the retail price of gasoline,” Smith said. “Current gas prices nationally average $4.32 per gallon. A month ago, that average was $3.48; and a year ago, national average price of a gallon of regular was $2.82.”

Smith said the price spike is related to reduced supply of oil in international markets and the uncertainty around purchasing and production decisions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Gas prices have been up and down recently due to demand shifts related to the impact of COVID-19,” Smith said. “Shutdowns and caution about going places reduced demand for gasoline, but when things opened back up, there was a surge in demand as people wanted to make up for lost time, pushing prices back up over the past year. Different seasons also drive the price of gasoline.”

These gas prices emphasize the need to plan ahead for known expenditures. It may also be necessary to postpone unnecessary expenditures until the situation improves.

“The best thing we can do to protect ourselves from financial shocks is to build an emergency fund by regular automatic deposits into a saving account,” Smith said. “A good savings goal is to put away at least 10% of any income you receive.”

While nothing can reduce the pain at the pump when the gas gauge is on empty, there are steps drivers can take to slightly delay refilling the tank.

Leslie Woolington, Extension risk management and loss control agent, said driving style and vehicle maintenance are at the top of this list.

“The amount of fuel an engine uses has to do with engine tuning, which deals with components like spark plugs, injectors and wires,” Woolington said. “Old or damaged components that play a role in meeting an engine’s ideal fuel, air and spark ratio can affect fuel consumption.”

That means engines that are maintained and well-tuned do not waste fuel.

“Maintaining your engine is more than just oil changes,” she said. “It also includes some components and systems like those listed in vehicle owners’ manuals that need done at 50,000 and 100,000 miles.”

Proper tire pressure affects a vehicle’s handling and stability but has an insignificant impact on fuel economy. What does matter is driving style.

“Smooth and steady driving is best,” Woolington said. “Vehicles get better mileage during highway trips than running errands around town. Anytime the engine works hard, such as pulling away from a stop, it consumes more fuel than when it cruises at a steady speed.”

While slower speeds typically mean less work for the engine and less fuel consumed, ideal cruising speed varies by vehicle. And size does not necessarily indicate fuel efficiency.

“Full-size trucks automatically get a bad rap for horrible miles per gallon, but that is not necessarily the case,” Woolington said. “With all the engineering by manufacturers and after-market tuning options, newer model three-quarter and one-ton trucks have nearly double the power and mpg than they did 20 years ago.

“Big farm trucks that do real farm work will never get the fuel mileage of a little car running around town, but that little car will also never be able to do real farm work,” she said.