SIKESTON -- Gasoline prices hit yet another national high Monday. And with the upcoming holiday weekend, during which AAA predicts 32.1 million travelers by motor vehicle, many are expecting prices to stay on the rise.
"Historically, toward the end of the week and toward the Memorial Day holiday there's always a big push to bring prices up because of the heavy traffic," said Bobby Jenkins of General Oil Company in Sikeston.
There are a few things motorists can do to get the most bang for their buck at the gas pump, though. A person's driving patterns, as well as vehicle maintenance, can influence fuel economy.
"In almost all cars today, computers are set up to learn that driver's habits to give them the best fuel economy as possible," said Jason Hughes, general manager at Plaza Tire Service in Sikeston.
Hughes recommended drivers keep consistent speeds when traveling. "If you have cruise control, set the cruise control," he said.
Mike Right, spokesman for AAA of Missouri, suggested drivers slow down. "Reducing your speed below 70 miles per hour will significantly improve your fuel economy," he said. "For about every mile under 70 you drive your fuel economy improves about 1 percent."
Right and Hughes urged motorists to keep vehicle tune-ups current, including oil changes, tire rotations, injection service, tire pressure and more, as called for in the owner's manual. If someone doesn't have their owner's manual, copies are available at most full-service locations, Hughes said.
Having nitrogen in tires also improves fuel economy. "It's a larger molecule than regular air," Hughes said. "It gives you constant air pressure."
Hughes also discredited the myth it is more efficient to drive with your windows down and air conditioner off, citing several independent studies. Having the windows up and running the air actually improves fuel economy by 6 to 7 percent, he said.
It's also a good idea to travel with as little extra weight in the vehicle as possible, combine trips, use the most fuel efficient vehicle for the purpose of the trip and look for alternative forms of transportation, such as walking, biking or mass transit, the two recommended.
The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded reached $3.196 Monday, up from $3.178 on Sunday, according to AAA and Oil Price Information Service. Gas prices in Sikeston on Monday ranged from $3.06 to $3.20 per gallon. Overall, nationwide prices are up 33.7 cents since last month and 30.4 cents from a year ago.
Jenkins said local gas prices haven't yet reached the height they did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in fall 2005, but said that is a possibility. "It's definitely not going to go down, but it could very well go up," he said. According to the last reports he heard, the industry isn't looking for much possible relief until the middle of July.
He stressed that prices are set by wholesale suppliers, not retailers, who are now facing diminishing profits. "We just price it based on what the market is and what our costs are," Jenkins said.
The heavy increase comes from a strong demand and a reduced supply. Refining is normally between 90 and 95 percent and has dropped to about 88 percent currently. "It's putting a lot of pressure on prices," Jenkins said.