Running on empty |

Running on empty

Susan Wood

Some may say Brent Woodard is spinning his wheels – putting $10 in his tank each time he needs gasoline. The practice requires more trips and time for the South Lake Tahoe resident, but options are limited on a tight budget.

He has even parked his truck where he lives near the “Y” in the interest of mileage.

“I’m glad I have a Honda,” he said at Lake Tahoe Oil. The Round Hill sells self-serve unleaded fuel for $2.37, the going rate at the lake.

“I used to fill it up with $20, $22. Now it takes $32, so now I just put in $10. I get enough to get me through the week,” he said.

Bring on the Top Ramen. It seems college students are heavily impacted by the growing expense, with a number of them forgoing filling up their tanks to the top.

“I don’t remember the last time I did,” Kyle Ballotti said at Lake Tahoe Community College. He only puts in $20, which may hit the halfway mark. The dent in the budget has averted trips home for lunch with his Ford Explorer. He lives with his parents.

Chris Kasper and Jasmine Reicherdt, a couple who just moved here, believe housing might take a back seat to trying to get around town in their Explorer. They put the same amount in as Ballotti.

“We’ll get something cheap,” Jasmine said in front of the college.

The psychology of losing money can run deep. While everybody’s affected, most react differently.

“I’ve heard of people doing that. The guy in front of me just put in $7, but it’s not worth it to me, and I haven’t seen anybody sell their car yet,” Lyall Davidson of Vancouver said, as he watched the gas meter surpass $65 to fill his GMC 1500’s 44-gallon tank. He started with a quarter-tank of gas and ended with a tab of $75.

Davidson drove from Canada to Tahoe a week ago to hit the hiking trail.

He gets gas in Washington state because it’s more expensive in Canada, which averages $2.60 a gallon.

Along with Davidson, Howard Roberts of New York pays attention to miles per gallon – now more than ever.

“We had the opportunity to do something about this in 1973 with the oil embargo. Now we’re paying the price,” he said, while filling up his rental car at Lake Tahoe Oil. “My next car will be a Prius.”

The declaration could be either a blessing or a challenge to Shehadi Motors. The South Lake Tahoe dealership has tried to keep up with a surging demand for the Toyota hybrid that gets 60 mpg in the city. Unlike most cars, it gets better mileage street driving than rubber hugging the highways.

“I wish I had 20 of them,” Shehadi Sales Manager Larry Partlow said, adding there’s a waiting list. He cites the number of people wanting to contribute to the betterment of the environment.

The car – which lauds “eat my voltage” in the back window – is also unique in that the fuel charges the battery.

Even then, the Shehadi sales team has been surprised by how Tahoe residents have embraced the car because it’s not a 4WD – the king of Sierra mountain driving.

For that, the dealership will get in next winter the Highlander, a 4WD hybrid that gets 45 mpg with 270 hp under the hood.

“Forty-one years in the business, and I’ve never seen this happen to the industry,” said Al Moss, who owns the Chevron on Ski Run Boulevard.

Moss said no pools or discounts have availed themselves to retailers, which he laments have been squeezed by the distribution channel.

“In 10 years, my profit margin has seen a 6-cent difference,” he said.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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