How to conserve fuel while driving as gas stations run out

A gas pump is covered with an Out of Service cover on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 as motorist started making runs on gas stations in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

A gas pump is covered with an Out of Service cover on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 as motorist started making runs on gas stations in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

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Drivers are struggling to find fuel as gas stations across the Southeast report outages or shortages stemming from the Colonial Pipeline shutdown.

Colonial, which has a 5,500-mile gas pipeline in the eastern United States and supplies 45% of fuel to the East Coast, temporarily halted operations over the weekend after learning it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack involving ransomware. The company has since restored operations to some lines but its main lines remain closed.

Experts have emphasized that there’s no need to “panic buy” gas because of the shutdown, but many people have rushed out to fill up their tanks and gas cans — creating shortages or long lines at many gas stations and making it difficult for drivers to find fuel.

For those who haven’t been able to find gasoline or diesel, experts have some tips to make the fuel you do have last longer.

How to save fuel while driving

First, experts recommend preparing ahead of time.

AAA says it’s best to “accomplish multiple errands” in one trip and to avoid driving during times when traffic is usually heavy.

“Shorter trips can use twice as much fuel as one long, multi-purpose trip that covers the same distance, when the engine is warm and at its most fuel-efficient temperature,” the U.S. Department of Energy says.

Those who own more than one car should use their most fuel-efficient model, AAA recommends.

Remove heavy items from your car if possible.

“Minimize your use of roof racks and remove special carriers when not in use,” AAA says. “It takes more fuel to accelerate a heavier car, and the reduction in fuel economy is greater for small cars than for larger models.”

Avoid speeding, and accelerating and braking steadily.

“Speeding increases fuel consumption and decreases fuel economy as a result of tire rolling resistance and air resistance,” the Energy Department says. “While vehicles reach optimal fuel economy at different speeds, gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 miles per hour.”

The department says accelerating and braking gently “can improve the fuel economy of your vehicle by 15%–30% at highway speeds and 10%–40% in stop-and-go traffic.”

For highway driving, use cruise control.

It can help maintain a constant speed and conserve fuel, it says.

Additionally, limiting the use of air conditioning while driving uses less fuel.

“Even at highway speeds, open windows have less effect on fuel economy than the engine power required to operate the air conditioning compressor,” AAA says.

Park in the shade or use a windshield screen to reduce heat build up.

“This reduces the need for air conditioning (and thus fuel) to cool down the car,” it says.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated.

Having the correct tire pressure can help increase your vehicle’s fuel effiicency, according to the North Carolina Consumer Council.

About the shutdown

The FBI said earlier this week that cybercrime group DarkSide, which encrypts victims’ files and threatens to publish them online unless a ransom is paid, was behind the attack that caused Colonial to pause its operations.

Colonial Pipeline says it’s been working to restore operations, and on Tuesday said it has additional lines operating manually to “deliver existing inventories to markets along the pipeline.”

During the shutdown, demand for gas has soared — jumping 14.3% over the past seven days and driving the average price of gas to more than $3 a gallon,Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy.com, says.

Economists and officials have urged drivers not to rush out to buy fuel or to hoard gasoline.

The federal government is also working with Colonial and state governments to mitigate the strain on supply.

Some southeastern states have declared states of emergency and on Sunday, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a regional emergency declaration for 17 states along the East Coast and Washington, D.C.

The declaration supports “relief efforts related to the shortages of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products” and creates more flexibility for carriers and drivers, including an exemption from hours of service restrictions for those transporting fuel to the included areas.

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted short-term waivers for certain gasoline requirements to help “alleviate supply shortages,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters Wednesday.

Colonial has said its goal is to “substantially” restore operations by the end of the week.

“While this situation remains fluid and continues to evolve, the Colonial operations team is executing a plan that involves an incremental process that will facilitate a return to service in a phased approach. This plan is based on a number of factors with safety and compliance driving our operational decisions,” it said Monday.

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Bailey Aldridge is a reporter covering real-time news in North and South Carolina. She has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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