Gas Sales

In this March 31, 2011 photo, Daniel Dona pumps gas at a Shell gas station in Menlo Park, Calif. With the price of gas above $3.50 a gallon in all but one state, there are signs that Americans are cutting back on driving, reversing a steady increase in demand for fuel as the economy improves.(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Paul Sakuma

Every two to three days, Ephasia Davis puts about $30 worth of gas in her car.

She needs it to make the trek from her home in Laveen to her job in Tempe. And often, the empty-tank warning light is already on.

“I run across that light issue trying to get to my side of town where gas is cheaper,” Davis said.

As she gets closer to her home, gas can be as much as 15 cents cheaper, she said.

But drivers who wait until they are near empty are running the risk of not only running out of fuel, but running into problems with their vehicle, said AAA Arizona’s communications director, Linda Gorman.

“It seems like people are really waiting, not only until the needle says ‘E,’ but the gas light comes on,” Gorman said.

From January through April 18 of this year, there’s been a 6.5 percent increase in the number of calls from members needing fuel delivery compared with the same time frame last year, Gorman said.

Driving with an empty tank could cause damage to the vehicle, Gorman said. That’s because sediment that normally sits in the bottom of the fuel tank risks being sucked into the system when there’s little gas.

“Letting your car run regularly on an almost empty tank can cause more damage to your car and wallet,” she said. “What happens when the car runs on very little fuel is that sediment gets sucked into the system. It can clog the fuel pump, fuel filter or fuel injectors. There is an electric fuel pump and (sediment) can cause it to overheat. That can be a $500 repair alone.”

More drivers may find themselves dangerously close to that situation as gas continues to rise.

According to Tuesday’s figures, Arizonans are paying an average $3.671 per gallon. A month ago, the state average was $3.312 for regular gasoline.

It’s unclear whether there’s any relief in sight, Gorman said.

“With oil trading as high as it is it’s hard to see any reprieve in gas prices. Six states are now over $4 a gallon. We know $4 is a psychological point. Pain is universally felt at that threshold. That’s really where you start to see a change in behavior,” Gorman said. “We’re far from that still in Arizona.”

But summer is right around the corner. Typically, peak gas prices hit around Fourth of July weekend, Gorman said. But this year, it could come around Memorial Day.

If there’s some silver lining, Gorman said, it’s that pump prices will hopefully level off before summer really gets going.

“It’s a volatile market now and prices continue to fluctuate every day,” she said.

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