Heading out of town? AAA has some tips

For those getting into their cars and making a trip to lands far (and not so far) away for the Fourth of July, drivers might have to deal with more motorists on the road and fork over a little more cash to get where they’re going than they did last year.

Teresa Thomas, director of public affairs for AAA East Central in Pittsburgh, said that there quite a few more motorists traveling this year.

“We’re projecting 41 million people,” she said. “That’s up 1.9 percent (from last year). AAA estimates that 1.66 million travelers are from Ohio and 1.46 million are traveling by car more than 50 miles.”

The amount of people traveling is up 14 percent from Memorial Day.

Betty Hersman, 62, of Marietta, said she and her husband would be two of the 1.6 million travelers in Ohio over the holiday weekend.

“We’re going to the chalets down around Old Man’s Cave,” Hersman said. “We’re going to be there just a couple days.”

Though gas prices aren’t expected to rise much more than they already have, Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for GasBuddy.com, said that in regards to Independence Day, prices are higher than usual.

“The last eight days (most areas near Marietta are) stuck on either side of $3.65 (a gallon),” said Kloza. “I think the numbers are the highest numbers seen on the July Fourth week since July 2008…(but) they’re not too bad. All things considered, people are going to hit the road.”

Joy Kern, 68, of Marietta, said she’s not traveling, preferring to stay at home.

“We’re staying local this time,” she said. “The kids are all scattered and they’re going places. (My husband and I) always stay here the Fourth of July.”

While people are hitting the road, AAA suggests there are some things drivers need to do to make sure their commutes are much smoother.

The Automotive Service Department at AAA East Central recommends checking the conditions of fluids, including oil, coolant/antifreeze and brake fluid. All under-the-hood components such as belts and hoses should also be checked. One all important thing is making sure the air conditioner is running smoothly before making a long trip.

Motorists are urged to keep an emergency kit in their vehicles with water, a flashlight, cell phone charger, flares, jumper cables and a first aid kit.

Current gas prices sticking around over the holiday shouldn’t surprise people, said Kloza.

“You’ve seen higher gas prices before; Spring 2011 and 2012,” he said. “Maybe with the exception of California, I don’t think (prices are) high enough to dissuade someone from taking a vacation. But air fare is astronomically high.”

Not only does GasBuddy have an app for iPhone and Android, so does AAA, and both let drivers monitor gas prices in their area.

Kloza said there are a few issues keeping gas prices high, not just through the state, but across the country.

“Throughout the country there are 149 refineries,” he said. “There has been an issue with (some) local refineries. There’s been some issues in Catlettsburg, Ky. and minor issues with a refinery in Canton. Maybe prices will drift a little lower, but we may not see that. If not for the Iraq problem, they would have dropped.”

He said those prices could have been 10 to 15 cents lower than Memorial Day prices. He added that drivers can expect summer gas prices to be about the same or marginally higher than last summer.

“We do have to watch hurricane season,” said Kloza. “We’re overdue to have something impact us there.”

Thomas said one way to help save gas while driving is a little simpler than people think.

“If you’re stuck on a turnpike at a tollbooth, start moving gradually, don’t speed up like a jackrabbit,” she said. “Anticipate your stops; take your foot off the gas and slow down (gradually). Use your air conditioning at cruising speed; it creates less drag on your engine.”

Among other things, avoiding long warm-ups, maintaining tire pressure and not using the trunk for storage can also help improve gas mileage.

Peter Tome, 48, of Marietta, said he and his wife are staying local this Fourth of July.

“My wife…is recovering from foot surgery,” he said. “We’re kind of saving (a trip) for after the holiday. I’ll probably go down to Parkersburg City Park, to the carnival, and take my son there. We’ll do the fireworks Friday night in town.”

Though gas prices are fluctuating and slowly lowering, Kloza said not to expect a big decrease anytime soon.

“I would say (prices will be) very steady and very stable,” he said. “(Prices usually lower) the last 100 days of the year. There’s almost a certainty of that. They’ll flirt with the lows of the year, which you probably saw in January.”