May
20
2011

Memorial Day Travelers Prepare to Fuel Up for Fun

The Memorial Day holiday marks the traditional launch of the summer travel season. The most common form of travel over Memorial Day weekend is the family car. Deciding where to go is the fun part, but figuring out how much it’s going to cost and managing fuel related expenditures can be painful. With gas prices well above levels seen this time last year, Americans might be making shorter trips or looking for other creative ways to save a few bucks.

About 81% of drivers today choose regular grade fuel. This is five percentage points higher compared to the same period five years ago.

One way for Memorial Day travelers to save money is to pay the lowest possible price at the pump. According to an analysis of driving behaviors conducted by Experian Simmons, there has been a gradual increase in the share of drivers who fill their tank with regular gasoline. About 81% of drivers today choose regular grade fuel. This is five percentage points higher compared to the same period five years ago. Usage of premium gasoline has declined the most. Only about 10% of drivers today say they fill their tanks with premium gasoline, down from 13%. The remaining consumers say they use either super premium grade or diesel.

Consumers have also discovered ways to control their transportation costs by driving less. The average number of miles driven per week dropped from to 148 miles during the most recent analysis period down from 174 miles per week five years ago. This is a relative decline of 15%. Unfortunately, the increase in the cost of gasoline negates any real savings that might have been realized by driving fewer miles. When forecasted to an entire year, assuming an average price per gallon of $4.00 today versus $2.25 five years ago with fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon, motorists are paying an average of $521 more per year for gasoline. A complete listing of historical gasoline prices can be found online.

There has been a lot of talk that consumers are more interested in fuel economy today than they ever have been in the recent past. But according to Experian Simmons, the cars that we drive to visit friends and relatives, picnic at a state park, or go to the beach this Memorial Day weekend are more likely to be gas guzzling SUVs than they are to be fuel efficient compacts. In fact, 29% of vehicle-owning households report that one of their vehicles is an SUV. This is up from 20% five years ago. Ownership of compacts has remained relatively stable over the same time frame at about 20%.

Judging from statistics related to recent vehicle purchases, the fleet of SUVs rolling along our nation’s highways shows no signs of abating. About one-in-five vehicle-owning households say the most recent vehicle they acquired was an SUV. This compares to 14% for compacts.

About one-in-five vehicle-owning households say the most recent vehicle they acquired was an SUV.

Perhaps our idea of fuel economy is more related to the number of cars we own than it is to the traditional metric of miles driven per gallon. Vehicle ownership rates have declined over the past few years from a high of 2.08 vehicles per household three years ago to 1.96 vehicles per household today.

So what is the moral of the story? Putting costs aside, to fully enjoy our planned Memorial Day weekend activities, maybe we just have too much stuff to haul around with us in our SUVs thus rendering compact cars impractical for optimal family fun.


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