LEWISTON — Gas prices should be about to bottom out and turn a corner, if the easing of coronavirus lockdowns unleashes pent-up demand, according to one travel industry expert.
But Matthew Conde, public and government affairs director for AAA Idaho, said late last week those prices shouldn’t rise too dramatically if people are able to resist the urge to rush back onto the nation’s highways and honor the phases of state plans to loosen restrictions on travel.
“You don’t get until mid-June before you have a complete lifting of all restrictions for people to be back to work,” Conde said. “That creates a lot of scenarios where a lot of people may start getting out there and doing a little bit more purchasing and recreational stuff.”
Another factor that should keep prices low for the time being is the massive stockpile of oil and processed gas that the U.S. has accumulated while parts of the global economy have slowed dramatically or ground to a halt.
On Sunday, gas prices at stations in Moscow ranged from $1.89 to $1.94 per gallon of regular unleaded, according to gas price aggregator GasBuddy.com. Prices in and around Pullman averaged $2.04, according to the website. Conde thought Idaho’s average price might get as low as $1.75 before it starts to rise.
The statewide average price per gallon was $1.80 in Idaho and $2.44 in Washington, according to AAA.
Conde said gas prices have tumbled for weeks because of the crumbling demand for fuel. But Sunday saw a sign of life in the gas market, with the national average rising about a cent since Thursday, to $1.78.
“... It’s been going steadily down since this coronavirus started,” he said. “So to have it start to at least level off tells me that things are starting to maybe turn the corner. If people start coming back and aggressively resuming their lives, we could see a fairly strong pull. And if that happens, then oil prices and gas prices will start to feel that upward pressure and start moving.”
AAA is taking the opportunity presented by the gradual reopening of travel to remind drivers of steps they can take to remain safe. One example is choosing a pump at the end of the row when refueling to help maintain social distances. A plastic bag can protect against surface transmission of the coronavirus when handling gas pump handles and controls if gloves aren’t available.
The nonprofit auto service association is also reminding people about regular maintenance, especially for vehicles that haven’t been driven for weeks because of the shutdown orders.
“You want the vehicle to be ready when you are,” Conde said. “Tires and batteries are being neglected right now.”
When left to sit, underinflated tires can develop flat spots that shorten their lives. Owners can protect the tires on vehicles that aren’t going to be driven by overinflating them by about 10 psi until their next use, Conde recommended. If two or more vehicles are available for household use, a better solution is rotating their usage so their tires can roll and their batteries can charge, he said.
Battery tenders are available to maintain a charge on stationary vehicles, and rodent-resistant copper wool can be carefully placed into air intakes and exhausts for vehicles that will see long periods of inaction. More tips for long-term storage of vehicles that won’t be used anytime soon may be found at https://calstate.aaa.com/via/car/parked-car-storage-tips.
One unfortunate inevitability of the reopening will be the return of traffic accidents, especially if drivers with an itch to hit the road aren’t cautious. And while crashes themselves can be dangerous, AAA is reminding the public to think about the additional potential hazard of unexpected, close personal interactions. For instance, two parties taking care of the aftermath of a fender bender before COVID-19 would think nothing of sharing a pen to write down insurance information.
“But it’s better to just take a lot of photos with your phone,” Conde said of recording that kind of info. “And take turns walking around the vehicles to photograph the damage.”
Joel Mills may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2266.