The pain at the gas pump is a familiar feeling for most Merced County residents, but those filling up their tanks Friday morning were in for quite a shock -- some prices spiked 20 cents a gallon overnight.
The average price of regular gas in Merced was $4.37 a gallon on Friday, up 15 cents from the day prior, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report. Across the state the price was nearly $4.49 a gallon, making California the highest in the nation.
"It's terrible, and I'm sure it's affecting a lot of people," said Socorro Velazquez, 46, as she filled up her SUV. "We still go out of town, but not as often as we used to."
Cynthia Harris, senior spokeswoman for AAA, says the stunning increase is short-term and can be linked to circumstances at local refineries.
"Basically, we have a very unique situation in California right now," Harris said. "Several refineries are not producing, which is tightening our supplies and giving the impression of a shortage."
According to Harris, the Exxon refinery in Torrance, a major producer pumping out 155,000 barrels a day, is closed because of a malfunction. The refinery is expected to reopen within a week.
Also contributing to the problem is the Chevron refinery in Richmond, which is not producing at full capacity. The plant was shut down by a series of explosions in August, the cause of which is still under investigation.
The squeeze for fuel has had an impact on local businesses, especially those relying on driving or delivery services.
Mountain Mike's Pizza in Merced is feeling the pinch, especially when it comes to employee turnover.
"Gas prices are affecting my business because it's hard to keep my delivery drivers," said restaurant manager Parvinder Dhesi, 25. "especially because the drivers use their own paycheck to pay for their gas or fix their cars."
Standing at the pump in Merced on Friday, Velaz-quez said she would be downsizing her SUV because of climbing gas prices.
That's good news for car dealers.
Gary Hogston, general manager at Merced Honda, said the search for better fuel economy is driving up sales, especially of used cars.
"As gas prices go up, we have a lot of people trading in their cars that use more gas," said Hogston. "People just want cars with more economical value and good gas mileage."
Other drivers have adjusted to the up-and-down of gas prices and choose to ride out the recent trend.
The Toyota dealership in Merced experienced a 10 percent sales increase of more fuel-efficient used cars, but general manager Mike Rutherford said, "People are getting used to the ups and downs and holding on to their cars longer."
Some residents, like Ardelle Kirkwood, 50, have opted to ditch their car altogether.
"That's why I ride my motorcycle more," Kirkwood said. "I prefer to be in my truck, but definitely, when the winter season comes ... I won't be able to ride my motorcycle."
Although AAA can't predict gas prices, said Harris, there are ways to stretch each dollar at the pump.
Driving less, taking public transportation and shopping around for the lowest prices are important, but drivers also should be aware of their driving habits.
For example, she said, people who drive at a consistent speed, without abrupt stops and starts, burn less gas.
Also, drivers should check for proper air pressure in tires, especially in the summer months. Removing any heavy items from the trunk and roof racks can help with gas mileage.
"Just be conscientious of how you drive and consolidate your errands in one trip," Harris said.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Price of regular
Week Ago $4.12
Month Ago $4.14
Year Ago $3.82
Price of regular
Price of regular