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Demand to blame for gas prices

Many drivers across America have come to fear and despise the letter E.

That’s because when the needle on their car’s dashboard hits that letter between D and F,, they will be left with two options: fill up their gas tank, or invest in a good pair of walking shoes.

But either way, they’re going to spend at least $30 or $40.

In the last month, average gasoline prices have risen more than 30 cents per gallon. Though the occasional bargain can be found, Demopolis motorists have to spend more than $2.40 per gallon, according to the most recent survey by the American Automobile Association.

Clay Ingram, a spokesperson for AAA’s Alabama office in Birmingham, said prices have spiked over the last month because traveling season starts around March.

“It’s just that a lot of people want to be out and about now that the days are getting sunny and warmer,” Ingram said Friday. “That makes demand (for gasoline) spike up, which in turn causes prices to spike up.”

Spring break, which officially ends when school bells ring Monday morning, boosts pump prices almost every year, Ingram said. But the gasoline market doesn’t look the same in 2006, he said; Hurricane Katrina changed everything.

“There were several days after Katrina where the primary focus wasn’t price, but availability; “Can I even buy gas?” was people’s number-one concern,” he said.

“And I think that changed the mindset. People stopped price-shopping, and they still haven’t gotten back to it.”

Though Ingram predicted the high prices would likely ease once spring break is over, the public needs to fight the higher prices “with their steering wheels.”

If the public starts price shopping again, local stations – and the petroleum industry at large – will see that low prices actually matter.

“Watch the stations in your area, find the lowest prices and buy your gas there,” Ingram said. “We need to make competition part of the equation again. If we demonstrate that we do care about the price of gas, and buy from the cheapest station out there, they’ll have no choice but to compete with lower price stations. Otherwise, they wouldn’t get any business.”

In addition, Ingram recommended a number of “basic common sense” methods to reduce gasoline costs, by finding ways to cut back on drivers’ overall gas consumption. They include:

Combining errands, rather than making separate trips.

Making sure there isn’t a lot of excess weight in the car.

Keeping the car’s air filter clean, the oil changed, so the car runs at maximum efficiency

Keep an eye on tire pressure.

The tire pressure, Ingram said, is quick and easy to do, and it makes a big difference.

Ingram said cars lose 2 percent of their fuel efficiency for every pound that a tire is under inflated.