Last Updated Mar 11, 2011 12:56 PM EST
Perhaps most troubling if you happen to be Ben Bernanke is that 27 percent of Gallup poll respondents eventually expect to pay $5 a gallon for gas. That's the sort of headwind the economic recovery could do without right about now.
For now, keep your eye out for gas heading over $4.11 a gallon. That's the average record high posted by AAA in July 2008. Once "all-time record" headlines start to flow, that could surely start to chip away at our national psyche, to say nothing of putting a bigger dent in our wallets.
Clearly, we're moving past the "this isn't amusing" stage, to "yikes, this could be a really big deal." The $3.53 average price we're now paying, according to AAA, is already 75 cents more than a year ago. And according to the Gallup poll, the average we're expecting to pay at some point this year is $4.36 a gallon, a 57 percent increase from a year ago.
Here are some coping strategies:
- Reduce your commute Between making your case for telecommuting once a week and carpooling with a co-worker once a week, you've just reduced your work-week gas outlay by 40 percent. If you have an especially long commute, staying off the road at least one day a week could be more valuable than the piddly raise you're still not sure you're going to get this year.
- Ease up behind the wheel. You can't control what you pay at the pump, but you can control your propensity for speeding, as well as your herky-jerky driving. The government says smoothing out your ride could boost your fuel efficiency 5 percent to 33 percent. (The wide variance depends on your model and the differential between highway and local driving.) If you're out on a wide open highway, watch your lead foot as well. While each car model differs, speeds above 60 miles an hour or so typically reduce fuel efficiency by an estimated 7 to 23 percent. In fact, Spain just lowered its official speed limit in an effort to reduce the nation's need to import so much suddenly expensive oil. If you've got cruise control, start using it more; it locks in a steadier ride. And if you'd like to impress (or convince) the motorhead in your life on why speeding isn't smart for the wallet, trot out this wonky tidbit from the car experts at Edmunds.com:
Aerodynamic drag increases in proportion to the square of speed, so doubling speed from 40 to 80 mph results in a quadrupling -- four times more -- of drag. Using more typical highway cruise figures, the drag force at 85 mph is twice as high as it would be at 60 mph.
- Get an app to boost your fuel efficiency. If you respond well to a challenge, start tracking your gas efficiency with a mobile phone app and see if you can keep improving your per-tank efficiency. Popular gas-tracking apps include GasCubby and CarCare.
- Ditch the overhead luggage carrier. If you're still planning on a summer road trip with the family, try to avoid the overhead; Edmunds.com found it decreased fuel efficiency by more than 20 percent. Interestingly the standard advice to get the heavy stuff out of the trunk or back isn't really a big deal. According to the federal government's fuel efficiency tips, you gain only 1 percent to 2 percent in added efficiency for every 100 pounds you keep out of the car. If you're tired of schlepping the kid's sports gear in-and-out, that's a good excuse to just let it stay in the trunk or back of the SUV.
- Take fuel efficiency more seriously the next time you're in buying mode. Enough with the lip service, OK? If you're really looking to insulate yourself from oil shocks, make fuel efficiency a key factor when sizing up models next time you're shopping for a car. MoneyWatch car expert Jerry Edgerton offers a spin through the Best Cars for High Gas Prices, and also has picks for the best affordable green cars. And if you're not the compact type, , Jerry also has some tips on pickups and SUVs with the best gas mileage.
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