In recent weeks, motorists around the country have begun experiencing spot fuel shortages, a number of stations saying they are out of gas.
The strange weather much of the country recently experienced contributed to the problem, especially the deep freeze that struck Texas and other parts of the southern U.S. There’ve also been refinery and pipeline issues. But the real problem — and one expected to get worse as we head into summer holiday travel season — has been a shortage of tanker drivers.
“Around Easter, we began hearing from people that pumps were running dry” in a few markets, Jeanette McGee, a AAA national spokesperson, told TheDetroitBureau.com. “We most recently saw this in Las Vegas” and parts of Texas, she said, while other sources have reported on spot shortages at tourist destinations in Arizona, Florida and Missouri.
Traffic is up but there’s still plenty of petroleum
The reality is that there’s more enough gasoline to go around, even as more and more Americans break out of their pandemic lockdowns, whether to return to work or to go on much-delayed vacations. AAA, TomTom and others report traffic is up substantially from this time last year — though still not at pre-pandemic levels.
The issue is that driver shortage. The National Tank Truck Carriers, a trade group, reports that 20% to 25% of gasoline tankers are currently sitting idle, with no one available to put behind the wheel. And, if anything, trucking companies are finding it difficult to replace drivers who continue to quit or retire in large numbers, so that shortage could take time to address.
That said, experts like McGee have a simple suggestion: “Don’t panic.” Yes, she said, you might, indeed, pull up to a pump that’s out of fuel if you travel a lot this summer. But “if that pump is dry, the station down the block might have fuel.” Spot shortages, it seems, generally tend to hit one brand or another, rather than an entire community.
Use common sense and avoid trouble
That said, some common sense or good practices will ensure that you don’t wind up stuck somewhere without any
fuel. Here are the top tips:
- Shortages tend to hit individual brands when they can’t find enough drivers. So, if your favorite brand or station is out of fuel, head down the block, or drive to the next exit. Chances are good you’ll find fuel;
- Don’t wait until the “Low Fuel” light comes on. Experts suggest drivers play it safe and fill up when you’re down to around a quarter tank;
- That said, don’t fill up constantly. That’s how panics begin — remember the toilet paper panic of 2020? — and if lots of people did this we could see long lines, even at stations with plenty of fuel;
- Use gas and travel apps to see if there’s a shortage where you might need to fill up next. Some apps provide phone numbers so you can call to check with service stations;
- If given a choice, you might consider avoiding the most crowded destinations on the busiest holiday. That’s when spot shortages are more likely, though you should be able to find gas everywhere if you’re willing to switch brands or drive a bit out of your way;
- While it’s not critical, now might be a good time to consider high fuel-economy vehicles, or even EVs. On the flip side, some of the market’s biggest vehicles also have the largest fuel tanks offering 400 miles or more between fill ups;
- And, if you’re just not going to feel comfortable knowing there might be a shortage at your destination, consider taking a train or flying, instead;
Again, DON’T panic — we’re not facing a ’70s-era oil shock.
Unless you’re running on fumes and then have the misfortune of coasting up to a pump that’s run dry, you still should be able to find fuel anywhere you go this summer. It just might take a little more effort.