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