Gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon and diesel prices going even higher are driving more and more residents to make changes. Some are driving less, some are opting for alternative fuels.
Waterstone resident Donna Wilson is filling her 2006 Turbo diesel-Injected Volkswagen Beetle with B20 biodiesel fuel. B20 is a blend of 80 percent traditional diesel fuel and 20 percent biodiesel, made from reprocessed vegetable oil. Fuel Land, a Pineville filling station, is the only place she's been able to find biodiesel, though she's heard of a station in north Charlotte that sells B100, or 100 percent biodiesel.
"I haven't gone into making it myself because to make it you have to use caustic chemicals like lye, and I have small kids," Wilson said. "Also, you violate tax laws if you make it yourself unless you contact the state and pay the taxes in a lump sum."
Using biodiesel may be better for the environment, but at the moment it may not be better for a driver's wallet. B20 is selling for about 25 cents more per gallon than traditional diesel -- $4.94 for B20 versus $4.69 for diesel.
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As prices have risen, Wilson also has started riding a bicycle to work. That cuts 100-120 miles a week out of her driving routine, depending on whether she rides the full 12 miles to work, or 10 to the LYNX light rail station in Pineville, N.C. Her family has added baskets to their bikes and uses them to run errands.
Still, Wilson said, she spends as much as $120 a month on fuel.
Van Wyck resident Cherry Doster has a unique way of saving money on gas.
When she went to trade in her pick-up truck, she upgraded to an SUV. Because of the increase in fuel prices, SUVs were cheaper than she expected.
Doster spends much of her days picking up art work and supplies from artists around town and dropping them off at the studio she shares with husband Bob Doster in Lancaster. Having a larger car means fewer small trips around town.
"The extra seating and covered cargo space mean I can schedule my carpooling and art pick-ups and deliveries all at the same times," Doster said. "Prior to this, and with a smaller car, I would have to make several trips sometimes to the same destination. I had scoffed at all the 'gas guzzlers' on the road, but now I understand that sometimes one big load means less running back and forth."
Area car dealers are seeing a shift, too, according to Fort Mill Ford Dealer Operator Todd Grubb. For years Ford's most popular models have been SUVs such as the Explorer and the larger Expedition, and trucks like the automaker's signature F-series pick-ups.
"Now customers are asking for fuel-efficient vehicles," Grubb said. "The gas thing caught all the manufacturers off guard. It shouldn't have, but it did."
Grubb has noticed that not everyone buying a small car is trading in their SUV, though.
"We're finding a lot of people with families that commute to Charlotte are keeping their SUV for family stuff, but buying a economical vehicle like the Focus or the Fusion for work," he said. "Their gas savings from not driving the SUV as much are paying for the new car payment."
In Sun City Carolina Lakes, Steve Stephens found a way to save on gas and have some fun. Stephens uses a Segway, a two-wheeled personal electronic transportation system.
In just three months, Stephens has put more than 500 miles on the Segway. Some of the traveling was for fun, he admits, but much of the mileage was traveling to activities to which he might otherwise have driven.
"Easily I've gone 100 miles on it in lieu of using a car," Stephens said.
The Segway is not street legal, so Stephens can use it only inside the neighborhood. He expects to get even more use from the Segway, and more savings in gas, when Harris Teeter opens at Carolina Commons.
"It's not as practical, but it's a lot more fun," Stephens said. "It's a big attention getter."
Pastor Jason Schafer of Crossroads Lutheran Church in Indian Land traded in his old pickup truck for a small motorcycle that gets 68 miles to the gallon compared to the 20 miles per gallon he got with the truck.
Schafer made the decision to switch to more fuel-efficient transportation after realizing that it cost him $6 just to go to the grocery store.
"I was pulling that big old truck around just for myself," Schafer said. "I thought this was ridiculous, so I figured I would buy a motorcycle."
Schafer estimates he has cut his monthly gasoline bill by a third.
He's also thought about buying an old Volkswagen bus and converting it to run on propane, but says that is probably a "pipe dream."