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April 22, 2011 Published in Top Stories, Traffic & Transportation

Running On Empty: Out-Of-Gas Calls Spike As The Cost Of A Gallon Of Gas Soars

The soaring cost of gasoline is causing some drivers to run out of gas. As proof, the volume of emergency roadside assistance calls from motorists who have run out of fuel in the District of Columbia to AAA Mid-Atlantic’s switchboard has increased nearly 40 percent so far this month, compared to the same period of time last year.

Blame the fallout on the soaring cost of a regular-grade gasoline, which has increased 30 cents across the nation in the last month  and is 98 cents higher than it was at this time a  year ago. Even so, gasoline prices in the District are 21 cents higher than the nation average. In the wake, the auto club is responding to a growing number of fuel-related roadside emergencies across the Greater Washington area.

For example, AAA Mid-Atlantic has dispatched road crews to rescue 516 motorists who have run out of gas in Maryland,  where the number of such emergency calls have soared 36.8 percent, compared to the same time a year ago. AAA roadside assistance crews in Virginia have delivered gas and diesel fuel to 376 motorists, as the out-of-fuel call volume soared 27.5 percent so far in April. It is happening with alarming frequency  across  the nation, cautions a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“In the wake of the high cost of gasoline some consumers are trying to push the envelope, but running on fumes can put you into the harm’s way, leave you stranded, and severely damage your vehicle,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Higher gas prices may be contributing to more people running out of gas because they are trying to stretch each tank further than normal.”

Out-of-Gas Calls To AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Roadside Assistance Operations

(From April 1 to April 20, 2011, compared to same period a year ago)

  • Up 39 Percent in Washington, D.C.
  • Up 36.8 Percent in Maryland.
  • Up 27.5 Percent in Virginia

As the number of S.O.S calls increase from stranded motorists, there is an obvious downside to running a vehicle with the gas gauge on “E,” warns AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Roadside Assistance Operations.  Motorists who allow their vehicle’s fuel tank to run near empty risk being stranded on the road and damaging expensive car parts, the auto club’s automotive services experts say.

The cost of a gallon of gasoline is averaging $4.05 a gallon in the nation’s capital, $3.90 a gallon in the Metro region, and $3.84 a gallon at pumps across the nation.  The contagion is spreading from coast-to-coast as motorists try to squeeze every last drop from their tank, AAA clubs around the country are reporting. Out-of-gas calls are up 20 percent in the state of Delaware, and they also up 20 percent in the Philadelphia metro area, AAA Mid-Atlantic is also reporting. Out-of-gas calls have jumped nearly seven percent in Arizona so far this year, AAA-Phoenix is reporting.

Such calls are up 13 percent in Oklahoma during the first quarter, confirms AAA-Oklahoma. In Texas, emergency gas calls are up 4.9 percent this quarter, AAA Texas is reporting. In California, where consumers are paying an average of $4.21 a gallon, or 37 cents more than the national average, the number of drivers running out of gas has soared, reports AAA.  Out of gas calls spiked nearly 13 percent in southern California, Automobile Club of Southern California is reporting. The auto club estimates that it is delivering gasoline to about 15,600 members who have run out of gasoline.

Drivers shouldn’t let their fuel tanks dip too far below the quarter-tank line, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic Automotive Services.  It can lead to fuel system damage that can cost you more in the long run. In fact, running on empty or running out of gas, may cause the electric fuel pump inside the fuel tank to overheat. The cost to replace this one component alone can be $500 or more in parts and labor, the auto club warns.

“Running your vehicle’s fuel tank dry is not only hazardous and inconvenient, but could present costly mechanical problems down the road,” said Ed Kriston, an ASE Master Technician with AAA Mid-Atlantic Automotive Services. “Motorists cringe when they see the high price of gas at the pump. But running on fumes is simply not worth the risk to your personal safety or the safety and dependability of your car.”

"Even worse, running your vehicle on low may cause sediment in the bottom of the tank, clogging the fuel pump pickup, the fuel filter or the fuel injectors, leading to expensive repairs that otherwise could have been prevented,” Kriston added. Additional safety tips for motorists:

  • Keep an eye on the fuel gauge; don’t let it run down to less than a quarter of a tank.  Driving consistently on a near-empty tank could cause sediment in the tank to clog the fuel pump, the fuel pump pickup, the fuel filter, or even your fuel injectors or related components. In addition, the fuel pump could overheat and fail.
  • Be alert when your mileage drops so you can take corrective action to restore your vehicle’s fuel economy.
  • Don’t touch or pump the gas pedal repeatedly when trying to start a vehicle that’s run out of fuel Drive as fuel-efficiently as possible.  If you do run out of gasoline, pull off the highway or freeway as far to the right as possible—call for help, or call AAA Mid-Atlantic for help if you’re a member.

Roadside Assistance remains the number one reason Members join AAA Mid-Atlantic and maintain their membership with AAA.

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