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As gas prices fluctuate, customers take it in stride

SALISBURY – Two things have been high recently in Rowan County: temperatures and gas prices.
According to AAA, the average price of regular gas nationwide has risen 20 cents per gallon in less than two weeks.
Saturday, AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report website listed an average price of $3.56 per gallon for regular gas in North Carolina, compared to a national average price of $3.67 per gallon.
Saturday morning, a drive around Salisbury saw many places selling regular unleaded at around $3.60 per gallon. But other places were much lower.
The lowest price logged on the Post’s website Saturday was $3.45 at the WilcoHess at South Main Street and Airport Road, with several others only a penny or two higher.
At 17 gas stations on Innes Street, Statesville Boulevard and Jake Alexander Boulevard, regular unleaded was advertised for as low as $3.52 and as high as $3.64.
At Gas ‘n’ Go on North Salisbury Avenue in Granite Quarry, Chad Barringer and Erin Schnuit pumped fuel into a tank hooked to Barringer’s truck.
Barringer works for a company that services boat motors and personal watercraft. In addition to their own machines, they fuel up the motors that they work on.
“It’s not unusual for us to run through 100 gallons in a weekend,” Barringer said.
The pump clicked off at $300. The tank wasn’t yet full.
Barringer said his business factors in the cost of fuel, and tries to stock up on gas when it’s cheaper so they have some on hand.
Still, he said, rising fuel prices have a ripple effect in the economy.
“People can’t afford to put their boats out,” Barringer said.
Other fuel customers seemed resigned to the price hikes.
“They use any excuse they can to make gas go up,” said Steve Auman, of Granite Quarry.
Auman said he believes oil companies want fuel to cost close to $4 per gallon nationwide.
“People can’t afford gas. They can barely afford the food they eat,” Auman said. He said he’s already cut back on driving.
On the other hand, Salisbury resident Nick Pacilio said that fuel prices wouldn’t change his family’s plans.
“We’re still going where we want to go,” Pacilio said as he finished fueling his Chrysler PT Cruiser.
He said that his family’s upcoming beach trip was still going to happen.
Asked how much a gallon of gas would have to cost before they would consider canceling, Pacilio said, “It’d have to be $5 or so. If it’s $4, I’m still going.”
Some gas station employees said the public has grown used to bigger shifts in gas prices.
Sarah Barnette, who works at The Pop Shoppe on West Innes Street, said some people have said they’ll buy less fuel since prices went up.
“They’re just putting in enough to get them home or to work,” Barnette said.
“Others just say you have to live with it, but it’s tough,” she said. “If you make minimum wage, half of that (hourly pay) goes for a gallon of gas.”
Back at Gas ‘n’ Go, manager Debbie Powers said she thinks most customers understand that station owners aren’t making a killing when gas prices spike.
“We’d tell them, ‘We’ve got to pay, just like y’all do,’ ” Powers said. “But we don’t have complaints like we used to.”
Powers said she hears different reasons given for why prices are rising. “They claim there’s not enough oil, so they’re going up on the price, but that’s normal.”
The national average price of regular unleaded hit a high of $3.79 per gallon in February, but retreated in the weeks that followed.
And prices stayed relatively low through Independence Day — traditionally a busy travel time.
According to published reports, increased driving in recent weeks might be part of the reason prices are jumping now.
But the biggest reason being put forward for the price hike is political unrest in Egypt, which led to the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3.
In the wake of Egyptian unrest, “we’ve seen crude oil prices go up significantly,” said Angela Vogel Daley, communications director for AAA of the Carolinas.
In a phone interview on Friday, Daley said that Egypt produces very little of the world’s oil supply, “but Egypt does have control of the Suez Canal” — a vital pathway for Middle Eastern crude — “and whenever there’s a threat to the global oil supply, gas prices go up.”
That political pressure comes at the same time that prices usually trend upwards, as Americans go on vacation.
So far, Daley said, this year’s pricing pattern is similar to last summer’s.
Prices began to rise sharply last year after July 4, stayed high through September, and began to fall in October, she said.
Aside from demand, Daley said, there’s the threat of hurricanes that could shut down refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We get 90 percent of our oil from the Gulf,” Daley said.
All that aside, she said, the Charlotte metropolitan area remains “one of the highest (priced) metros in North Carolina” for fuel, Daley said, but prices are rising across the state.
There are some ways to save, Daley said.
The easiest way to cut fuel consumption is to slow down.
“A lot of people don’t realize that for every 5 miles per hour you go over 65, you reduce your fuel economy by 10 percent,” she said. “That’s like paying 35 cents more per gallon when you speed.”
Drivers should also be sure their tires are properly inflated, Daley said. Underinflated tires can reduce gas mileage.
Drivers should check the owner’s manual, or look for a label on the inside of the driver’s-side door, to locate the recommended tire pressure for their vehicle.
No matter what happens, it may be some time before gas prices come down again.
And people around here seem resigned to that fact.
“They say it’s not going to go under $3 (a gallon) anymore,” Powers said.
Powers went on to tell how one of her customers came into the store reminiscing about a time decades ago when gas cost only 30 cents per gallon.
“Well, that was a lot of money back then,” Powers said.
But there’s no telling how long it will take today’s drivers to look back on $3.60 a gallon as “the good old days.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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