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Road Sage

Running on empty fuels a new trend

June 25, 2008|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

More motorists this year are running out of gas and calling for help -- so say the auto insurance carriers Allstate and the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Allstate says such pleas for help from January to May were up 52% nationally from the same period last year. AAA says such calls in Southern California have increased 7%.

This is an intriguing development. It suggests that motorists are so reluctant to cough up another $60 to $100 for a full tank that they can't bring themselves to go to the pump.

"We don't have a theory on it, but anecdotally it appears something is going on out there," Jim Klapthor, an Allstate spokesman, told me Tuesday.

Jeff Spring, an Auto Club spokesman, said, "It's a bit of speculation on our part. Maybe people are trying to get as much as they can out of a tank of gas and some people may not know how low they can run it, and all of a sudden -- boom! -- they're out of gas."

Both Allstate and the Auto Club expressed safety concerns, given that it's not great to run out of gas while in the high-speed lane of a freeway or the middle of the desert. Spring mentioned, too, that chronically running a vehicle on little gas could lead to sediment buildup in the gas tank and that this could clog the fuel pump, leading to a breakdown.

This phenomenon seems to be in need of a name or catchphrase. The term "petronoia" has been kicking around for some time, defined by the online Wiktionary as the "fear and/or paranoia caused by the economics of oil and petroleum related subjects."

But this is something different because it's so consumer-based. Should it be called pump-o-phobia? Pumpus Dysfunctionus syndrome?

If you can think of a better name, post your comments on the Bottleneck Blog.

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Steve Hymon writes The Times' blog on Southern California traffic and transportation in real time. Check it out at latimes.com/bottleneck.

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