Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Running on Empty

August 12, 2004
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The last six months have seen an almost-continuous rise in the price of gasoline in the United States. And unless your name is Exxon Mobil, odds are you aren't too happy about it.

Whenever something that hits the wallet hits the front page, it coincides with what feels like a quantum leap in the number of analysts/experts/pundits hitting the talk-show circuit to explain to us simple folk exactly why things are the way they are; words like "volatility," "instability," and "fundamentals," become staples of second-grade English classes. Timmy can't spell cat, but he can tick off the number of barrels being pumped in Saudi Arabia on any given day.

Great. That and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee, but it won't do much for your gas bill. Debating the minutia of petroleum politics is fine over a post-work beer or while sitting in front of a campfire on a weekend excursion, but it doesn't do much for the frustration of signing over your first born every time you hit the pump.

But are people all up in arms about nothing? A Reuters news story in June quoted ChevronTexaco Corp. Chairman and CEO David O'Reilly who, in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, "By historical standards, today's energy prices are really quite a bargain," and that the current average pump price, "doesn't look too bad," compared to the inflation-adjusted averages of 1981.

Uh huh.

In the third week of March, the national average for a gallon of gas hit a then-record $1.73. By the last week of May it hit $2.064. As I write this, the national average cost for a gallon of gasoline is $1.91. Here's hoping the only records broken this summer are at the Olympics.

A 2004 Ford E250 van sports a 35-gallon gas tank. At $1.50 a gallon it would cost $52.50 to top it off. At $2, you'll fork over another $17.50. Ford specs state the 2004 E250 will average around 17 miles per gallon. I say sure, if said van is empty, running downhill and with a good tailwind. Fully loaded in stop-and-go traffic, city and highway driving? Let's use 12 mpg.

Averaging 12 mpg, that 35-gallon tank will take you 420 miles. Now, some pros might keep everything close, say a 20-mile radius; others may range 50 miles or more from one job to the next. For argument's sake, our pro averages 150 miles a day, six days a week.

Crunching the numbers, our pro fills his E250 2.14 times each week. At $1.50 a gallon, that's $112.35 each week; at $2, that's $149.80. Multiply the difference, $37.45, by 50 (everyone deserves a couple weeks off a year) to get $1,872.50. Almost $2,000 more a year just to get to work.

Doesn't sound like much of a bargain to me.

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