MERCED — Drivers are on the hunt for the cheapest gallon of gas in Merced.
Not an easy feat when a gallon of regular gasoline averaged $4.11 on Monday, up nine cents from last week and 55 cents from last month, AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report said.
And once drivers find the biggest bang for their buck at the pump, most are stretching every dollar as far as they can.
"I think I run further on empty than I used to," said Merced resident Lori Harris, 46, who found the best deal at Valero on G street. At $4.03 per gallon, it cost Harris $67.73 to fill up her Nissan Pathfinder on Monday.
Harris is discovering other ways to find relief from the spiking prices.
"We just don't go out if we don't have to," she said. "Or if we do go out, we bundle all our errands in one trip."
For farmer Linda Lorenzo, 65, the inflated gas prices mean fewer trips to Merced.
"I don't come to town every day," Lorenzo said, as she filled up her Chevy Equinox at Chevron on West Olive Avenue. "Things are a little tight because we're farmers and some months are tighter than others."
Instead of filling up the tank, Lorenzo opted to buy just half a tank on Monday, saving roughly $20.
Cynthia Harris, AAA Northern California spokeswoman, said the switch to a summer blend of gas is contributing to the increase.
Harris said most refineries begin switching to the more expensive summer blend in March. By law, all refineries must switch by May 1, but many have started the conversion early, she said.
"Many refineries have switched to the summer blend before they normally do," Harris said. "And people are starting to shop more for gas so we're starting to see a higher demand."
Crude oil prices are rising for spring's driving season, Harris said, which begins when the days get longer and the weather gets warmer.
The warm weather also means ditching the gas guzzler for a more economically-friendly option.
Kevin McCarthy, 51, owner of Kevin's Bikes, said his bike sales increase every time gas prices go up.
"Even if they're not buying a new bike, we see many people bringing in their old bikes for repair," he said. "Every other customer that comes in mentions the high gas prices. It's definitely making customers think about it."
One such customer is Joseph Ayala, 58, a retired school counselor, who now uses his bike to run everyday errands.
"I found that if I use my bike instead, I don't have to fill up the Subaru (Outback) as often," he said. "It's more relaxing, and I'm not tense from traffic. We use the car only for longer trips now."
McCarthy is capitalizing on the bike movement by ordering more "commuter" bikes with comfortable seats and a basket to hold belongings.
Relief from high gas prices is just around the corner, Harris said.
"According to analysts, it should start to level off and stabilize," she said. "It could even go down."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.