Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cheap Gas

This seems like a kind of story that you'd see in the news more often, with gas prices what they are.

The other day I mentioned that Saturday my wife and I went yard-saling. We drove all over Rockville and Aspen Hill, even Potomac, just enjoying the beautiful morning and socializing with people. At some point I glanced down and noticed we were almost out of gas.

We have three cars and four drivers in our family. For some reason dad is the one who pops for gas, I don't remember how that happened, kids ought to be making their own money but for some reason they come to me. I'm too good to them, don't you agree? It seems like every other day I'm pulling out the bank card and putting another fifty, sixty, seventy bucks on it, filling some tank. Naturally I am happy as a patriotic American to be contributing to the record profits enjoyed by our oil companies, and I am glad to support those entrepreneurial CEOs who deserve those multimillion dollar bonuses for their hard work and selfless motivation. Naturally.

Our neighborhood gas station was recently bought by a bigger company, and the prices took a leap at that time. It's nearby, but when you're talking about a nickel a gallon difference it might be worth it to drive over to Kensington, or up on 355 near town center, to fill up at one of those cash-only places. It's nice to have a place right around the corner, but my customer loyalty doesn't extend to gas stations that are owned by huge companies that are getting rich off my dependence on their product.

We were driving up Veirs Mill and noticed that another gas station in the neighborhood had prices a few cents cheaper, so we stopped in there. I stopped taking my car to this place years ago when the mechanics left grease all over the steering wheel, failed to secure the battery, and also didn't fix the mechanical problem I'd brought it in for. The one thing I'd go there for was free air -- can you imagine these guys get seventy-five cents for air?! That's worse than paying for bottled water, paying for air.

Filled the tank, took the car home.

Later my wife mentioned it had made some kind of noise when she was driving it. Well, that car -- it's a 2002, just paid off -- recently had some work done to it, timing chains replaced, and I wasn't really surprised if it was still settling in. Like, there is now a puff of smoke when you first start it in the morning, which I figure will go away eventually. I didn't give it much thought.

Later we were going to go somewhere, and I was driving. I went to pull out of the driveway and the car stalled right there, with the front bumper sticking out in the road. I started it again, and the motor sounded like a kid dragging a stick along a picket fence, clattering and banging. I opened the hood to see, hopefully, if maybe there was something in the fan or something loose under there, but no such luck, this noise was coming from inside the motor somewhere. I backed it into the driveway and we took a different car.

Later I started thinking about it, and decided to take it around the block, just to see if it might magically work itself out. Sometimes that happens.

I'll tell you the truth. Every payday, it seems like, I have a thousand-dollar car repair. Last paycheck went to fix a car that my kid had rear-ended at a stoplight, he barely tapped this Lincoln Town Car, there was not a scratch on it but it broke some kind of sensor in the bumper: a thousand bucks (the kid is paying me back for that one!). I mentioned the timing chains: eighteen hundred dollars. Before that, the little car needed an alternator: another thousand. The '96 Crown Vic needed front-end stuff and two tires, fourteen hundred bucks. You see what I mean? This is eating me alive. So if the car would just, y'know, fix itself, I'd be happy.

It could happen.

I got it to start, and it crawled around the block. Flooring it, I couldn't get it to go even fifteen miles an hour. It sputtered and died several times. I eventually was able to back it into the driveway.

Sad to say, I have the tow-truck company listed in the Contacts in my cell phone. I called them, and they came and took the car to the garage. I also have my mechanic's cell number in there. It was Sunday, but I'm sure he doesn't want to hear from me but I wanted to tell him why the car would be at the shop when he got there the next day. Since he'd just done a ton of work on it, of course, the implication was that his guys had screwed something up. He said if that was the case, he'd pay for the towing. We did not discuss what else he would pay for, but we both understood that it could get contentious. You can see, I'm a good customer, he wouldn't want to lose one like me. I basically just sign my paychecks over to him every two weeks.

Next day he called me at work to say he couldn't find anything wrong with it. He said the compression was good, he'd driven it all around, it was fine. I expressed, shall we say, incredulity. We discussed it and I told him about filling the tank. He said he guessed it could be bad gasoline or a clogged fuel filter, hard to say. I actually half-suspected that he had found something they'd done and had fixed it, and was covering so I wouldn't know.

Before quitting time he called me again. He'd been out test-driving our car again, and suddenly it sputtered and started running badly. After a minute it came back to normal, but at least now he knew there was actually something wrong. He had planned to give it back to us but asked to keep it, to look at the next day.

Next day, all tests were good, it ran fine. Now and then it would sputter, that's it. We decided to empty the gas tank and put in some kind of gas treatment. He said there could have been dirt in the gasoline, or more likely water. This was funny, the receptionist called me and said there were two things they could do, and they didn't know if either one would help. One of the things cost a hundred twenty dollars, the other one cost twenty dollars. What would you do? It felt like a test, they were seeing what kind of customer I am. I went with the twenty dollar option. That's what you would've done too, right? That evening we got the car back, and now it seems to run perfectly.

Cost: four hundred dollars.

If the gas I bought was five cents a gallon less than where I usually go, and say I put twelve gallons in, that means ... <scribbles on back of envelope> ... it cost me four hundred bucks to save sixty cents.

There's no way to prove, of course, that this gas station sold me bad gas. Maybe that's why you don't hear these stories more often. As prices are ridiculous now, people are doing what I did, buying cheaper gas. I was talking to someone else recently whose "Check Engine" light has started coming on and they aren't getting the acceleration they expect, even with premium gas. And yes, they go to one of those one-of-a-kind cash-only places.

When the price of steak goes up too much, people eat chicken. I think the same thing is probably happening with gasoline. Good, name-brand gas is just too expensive -- I know people with big SUVs who are putting a hundred dollars' worth in! I know I'm real old, but does anybody else remember pulling up to a pump and asking for a dollar's worth of regular? And that was with somebody else pumping it. And they'd wash your windshield and check the oil. Listen to me, I sound like an old guy. But really, I know I can spend seventy dollars just filling my tank. A dollar's worth, imagine that.

These gas prices are having all kinds of effects. Any product you buy at the store had to be shipped there, now when you want to go somewhere you have to think about what it'll cost. Have you looked at airplane tickets recently? If people are buying crummy gas their engines are going to have more wear and tear, their repair bills will be higher, it's just another way that the private citizen loses while the corporations profit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know that there is enough oil under the outer continental shelf of the U.S. to replace all the oil we import for 25 years? That's not even considering Alaska. Yet, unnecessary environmental regulations keep us from becoming energy independent. What are we afraid of? An oil spill? Hundreds of oil platforms in the Gulf rode out Katrina without leaking a drop of oil.

The reason oil is so expensive is that it is controlled by international monoplists who aren't subject to our laws on price-fixing.

Vote for McCain. Everyone else will.

Barack is another Jimmy Carter.

June 26, 2008 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
This week, I walked to Metro twice(20 minutes +/-) and today took the ride-on bus to Metro. In the afternoons, it is/will be a combo of walking/bus riding. I am hoping to use my car less, avoid Metro parking fees and get in some more walking. I will cut down on gas usage and keep my car longer(I hope).

Walking to the metro,I saw a number of people I knew running and walking dogs(I met a greatish dane and a long haired german shepherd). I got a good look at what is growing in the neighborhood and while walking, downed 3 of my required 8 glasses of water. It was all good-as they say.

June 26, 2008 2:04 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 26, 2008 3:45 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

You know Jim, I wouldn't be so sure about the bad gas. In most cases the cheaper gas stations get their fuel from the same refinery as the more expensive ones. There's only a handful of different refineries supplying gas. What kind of repair did they do for the $400? Doesn't seem like bad gas would account for that size of a bill. Also one would think that if the problem was bad gas the bad running wouldn't have been intermittent like that, it would have consistently run bad. Sounds like maybe a computer was flakey or some electronics part.

I don't remember putting a dollars worth of gas in a car but I do remember regularly buying $5 worth. These days I put $20.00 in and feel like a cheapskate, but that's about all I use in a month.

June 26, 2008 3:50 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

The delusional red baron said "Vote for McCain. Everyone else will.",

LOL. 5 hours ago - F&M nationwide poll: Obama 42, McCain 36

Everyone's going to vote for Mccain just like Huckabee was going to be president and the Republicans were going to clean up in the 2006 elections.

June 26, 2008 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good news! The Supreme Court has upheld the Constitution:

"WASHINGTON (June 26) - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a constitutional right to keep guns in their homes for self-defense, the justices' first major pronouncement on gun control in U.S. history.

The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted.

The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.

The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home," Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled.

Scalia noted that the handgun is Americans' preferred weapon of self-defense in part because "it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police."

Scalia's opinion dealt almost exclusively with self-defense in the home, acknowledging only briefly in his lengthy historical analysis that early Americans also valued gun rights because of hunting.

The brevity of Scalia's treatment of gun ownership for hunting and sports-shooting is explained by the case before the court. The Washington law at issue, like many gun control laws around the country, concerns heavily populated areas, not hunting grounds.

Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Gun rights supporters hailed the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several of its suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday's outcome.

The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest.

Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard, sued the District after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his Capitol Hill home a short distance from the Supreme Court.

"I'm thrilled I am now able to defend myself and my household in my home," Heller said shortly after the opinion was announced.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Heller's favor and struck down Washington's handgun ban, saying the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns and that a total prohibition on handguns is not compatible with that right.

Thursday's decision was embraced by the president, said White House press secretary Dana Perino. "This has been the administration's long-held view," Perino said. "The president is also pleased that the court concluded that the D.C. firearm laws violate that right."

White House reaction was jubilant. "We're pleased that the Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to keep and bear arms," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Scalia said nothing in Thursday's ruling should "cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

In a concluding paragraph to the his 64-page opinion, Scalia said the justices in the majority "are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country" and believe the Constitution "leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem."

The law adopted by Washington's city council in 1976 bars residents from owning handguns unless they had one before the law took effect. Shotguns and rifles may be kept in homes, if they are registered, kept unloaded and either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.

Opponents of the law have said it prevents residents from defending themselves."

June 26, 2008 4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The delusional red baron said "Vote for McCain. Everyone else will.",

LOL. 5 hours ago - F&M nationwide poll: Obama 42, McCain 36"

Priya, you fool. No one knows Obama yet. They will.

In June 1988, Dukakis led George Bush Sr by 20 points. You probably didn't notice since you were in Canada, I just let you know that Bush won by eight points.

Actually, there's a pattern here. A individual leading in June always either loses or barely wins.

It's history in this freedom-loving country where we are protected by the Second Amendment.

Party tonight!

June 26, 2008 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Priya, since you brought up the Huckster, I'll let you in on a secret. There's a conspiracy to make him the next President of the United States.

Don't worry, McCain's in on it.

Here's how it will go down:

McCain nominates Huck. They win the election after more of Obama's friends from the violent, militant radical 60s left emerge. The courts rule after November that McCain is ineligible for the office because he was born outside the United States.

Oila! President Huckabee.

Huckabee's first act as President is to negotiate a gay NAFTA with Canada and Mexico making same sex marriage illegal anywhere in North America.

Keep it on the downlow.

No one is to know.

June 26, 2008 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vote for McCain. Everyone else will.

James Dobson won't. He said, "Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances."

What's the matter, didn't you get the memo?

Barack is another Jimmy Carter.

Actually, he's more like a JFK. Folks from Caroline Kennedy to David Greenberg to Frank Rich to William Rees Mogg to Newt Gingrich agree.

June 27, 2008 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dobson has some valid concerns. For example, McCain has said he will appoint judges like Roberts and Alito and yet those two yesterday ruled part of McCain-Feingold unconstitutional. Is it reasonable to believe his promise about the judges?

Still, alot of people weren't that excited about Bush in 2000 (or 1988, for that matter). The problem, alas, is always the alternative.

"Actually, he's more like a JFK."

You must mean some other JFK. The one who was a President cut capital gains tax and promised to pay any price to promote liberty. Barack wants to raise taxes on investing in our country's economy and wants to desert the effort to establish a democratic Iraq.

How about the debates? JFK pioneered televised debates and used them to defeat RMN. Barack has chickened out of the town hall meetings proposed by McCain. Even the Washington Post, in today's editorial page, has criticized Obama's cowardice.

I'm surprised feminists aren't deserting the Democratic party in droves. Basically, what happened here was that Dems chose a less experienced male over a more experienced woman even though they had roughly equivalent policy postitions and political skills.

That's sexism, people!

June 27, 2008 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a fun fact:

Since FDR's last victory in 1944, only one Democrat, LBJ in 1964, has received more than 50.1% of the vote.

That's a fun fact!

June 27, 2008 9:23 AM  
Blogger Tish said...

Back in the days when regular leaded gas was thirty one cents a gallon, my dad took the long way home from church every Sunday to get gas at a place where it cost twenty nine cents a gallon. We got water in the gas tank from time to time. My dad would get under the hood and hold something open - a valve leading into the carburetor maybe?- while my brother or my sister kept a foot on the gas. After a while the water bubble would be expelled and we'd be on our way until the next water bubble. There was an additive you could pour into the tank that would help help the water get through the system, but it was mostly ether and my dad wouldn't use it.

I was under the impression then that water in the gas lines was more common when the gas station's fuel tank was getting low. In the 70s the stations' tanks got low fairly often.

I think that a lot of the seat-of-the-pants mechanical work my dad did to keep our old cars going just doesn't work on current cars. I remember learning to gap my own spark plugs and change my own oil, change filters, even how to check the brake pads and the CV joint (that last after having to replace an axle on the side of the road). Now I open my car hood and just am so very thankful to be able to pay a professional to maintain my car. The stuff in my engine compartment is unrecognizable, plus it's all squished together.

June 27, 2008 1:34 PM  

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