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Military stores having gas pains

Jul. 10, 2008 - 01:50PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 10, 2008 - 01:50PM  |  
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Do you know anyone not paying attention to gas prices? Many people are taking steps to reduce the amount of fuel they use.

According to the Department of Transportation, Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles this April than in April 2007 — a 1.8 percent decrease. That's good news — except the drop means fewer gas-tax dollars are going to the Highway Trust Fund, used for highway construction and maintenance, according to transportation officials.

You're paying 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline — 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel — just in federal taxes.

That has military exchange customers asking: Why isn't the price of gas on military bases cheaper, if the military exchanges are exempt from taxes?

The exchanges generally do not have to pay federal, state and local taxes for merchandise they sell — except for gas.

By law — the Hayden Cartwright Act, 4 USC, Section 104 — the exchanges must pay taxes on gasoline. They also must pay other costs, such as underground storage fees. Just as with gas stations outside the gate, those costs must be folded into prices at the pump.

The higher the gas prices, the more complaints from customers to officials at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey said.

At overseas installations, gas prices are based on the Energy Department's four-week average.

In the U.S., the exchanges do surveys to set the price of gas — surveys of at least five service stations near the military installation that the local exchange officials have determined are its competitors. They set the price equal to the lowest price for each grade of fuel sold by those stations, Anstey said.

While the practice in the past has been to survey on a weekly basis, exchanges can do surveys more than once a day, exchange officials said. Granted, that's probably not going to be to the benefit of the customer, the way gas prices are rising.

Anstey said officials started surveying more often because of the swings up and down in prices. "Customers were coming in and telling us about lower prices outside the gate," he said.

"It all comes from the same place. We're paying market prices for gas," Anstey said. But AAFES will set the price below its cost, if necessary, to match the local market. Navy exchanges are not authorized to sell below cost.

Depending on how far you have to drive to a gas station on base, it may be cheaper to go to a civilian gas station, unless you're going to be on base anyway.

Some Web sites that can help you score the lowest prices in your area:

• http://www.fueleconomy.gov/FEG/gasprices/states/index.shtml">http://www.fueleconomy.gov/FEG/gasprices/states/index.shtml

• http://aaa.opisnet.com/index.aspx">http://aaa.opisnet.com/index.aspx

• http://www.automotive.com/gas-prices">http://www.automotive.com/gas-prices

• http://www.gasbuddy.com">http://www.gasbuddy.com

But finding the cheapest prices isn't the entire solution. Are you scrutinizing your driving habits? Are you considering carpooling or using public transit to get to work?

Before you get into your car, are you thinking about whether you really need to make that trip? Perhaps you could combine it with another trip later in the week, or accomplish the mission on the way to or from work. Combine your errands, if possible, and map your route to minimize the driving.

Or instead of driving, could you bike it or hoof it?

Here are some tips from the Energy Department:

• Don't idle. Idling gets you zero miles to the gallon.

• Don't drive aggressively. Speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking waste gas; bad driving habits can lower your highway gas mileage by one-third and your city mileage by 5 percent. Gas mileage starts dropping rapidly above 60 mph.

• Use cruise control on highway trips to help maintain consistent speed.

• Use air conditioning only when necessary.

• Clean out your car. Extra stuff is extra weight and decreases gas mileage.

• Use the grade of motor oil that your car manufacturer recommends.

• Check your owner's manual for the grade of gas you should use. There's no point in spending money for a higher-than-recommended grade of gas.

• Get regular engine tuneups and car maintenance checks.

• Replace your dirty air filter. Keeping the filter clean could increase mileage by as much as 10 percent.

Finally, if you haven't done it in a while, start tracking your gas mileage by recording the number of miles driven, divided by the number of gallons of gas it takes to fill up. Then take steps to improve the bottom line — while driving less.

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