Cover Story: Gas prices sticker shock

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - As of this minute, it costs more than ever to drive your car.  As tempers are red-lining, a lot of drivers say it's time to hit the brakes.

But this is not just another story about gas prices.

It costs an arm and a leg to own a car.  And it's not just because of gas prices.  Oil, insurance, upkeep and a whole lot more are also at record highs.

So how much does it cost to back out of the driveway?  It's going to get your attention.  It's higher than last year and higher than during the last gas spike in 2008.

At a time when people are struggling financially the cost of driving is at its highest level ever.

A brand new pair of jeans.  A new toaster.  Food for the family.  Are you worried about how to pay those bills?

You might first worry about how you're going to start that car.

AAA Carolinas calculated the cost of driving a car in the Carolinas and found motorists can expect to pay an average of 66 cents a mile.  (That's with gas at 3-62 a gallon.  It's higher than that now.)

For the owner of an average sedan driving 15,000 miles a year that's almost $10,000 compared to a little over $9,000 last year.

"As we've seen it costs more to operate a vehicle in North Carolina than ever has per mile in at least the last decade," says Tom Crosby of AAA Carolinas.

Gas is getting all the attention (and rightly so) but the cost of insurance, maintenance, tires, taxes, registration and depreciation has made the cost of owning a car more expensive.

And the price of gas, we can all agree on that.

"Gas prices are ridiculous out here."

"It's eating me alive."

"It's ridiculous."

It's now almost a dollar higher than it was this time last year.  And the year it went to over $4.00 a gallon (in 2008) it's already 41 cents more expensive than it was that record year and it keeps going up.

"The price yesterday was 3.63. Today it's 3.73.. 10-cents a gallon in a matter of days. One station was 3.65. When I came by went back by three hours later it was 3.73," said Johnny Payseur of Matthews.

There are signs Americans are putting on the brakes.

According to MasterCard SpendingPulse which tracks gas purchases nationwide gasoline sales have fallen for five weeks in a row, a marked turnaround over what's been happening as the economy has been taking off.

"The question is will we start to modify our behavior really significantly? Probably up around 4-dollars a gallon. That's when people start carpooling more.. that's when you're going to see a major shift away from SUVs to smaller cars," says Crosby.

Dealerships report selling more fuel-efficient cars.  And more people in North Carolina appear willing to crossing the border into South Carolina where the gas tax is about 17-cents a gallon cheaper.

Erika Hirling-Payseur told us she's cut out unnecessary trips.  "Basically I don't do much running around anymore," she said.  "Used to be you'd be able to fill up the car I drive for 10-to-15 bucks. Now it's like 35."

Someone who drives 40 miles a day with a car that gets about 20 mile per gallon is looking at spending an extra 14 dollars a week on gas - that's driving that's driving 300 miles a week.

Will we reach $4.00 a gallon?  Unrest in the Middle East and speculation are driving the price of oil higher.  Prices eased up somewhat Monday.  U.S. demand is down, if that keeps up that could keep us from getting to 4-bucks a gallon.

And when we're talking about gas, we want to remind you, we have the best gas price tracker in Charlotte on our website.. look under the traffic tab.

It will show you the location of the cheapest gas that is closest to you.

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