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    Drivers Balk at Premium Gas Prices

    Retailers are running out of regular gasoline as motorists look to save money.

    ARLINGTON, Va. -- Despite engine requirements for premium, more and more motorists are looking to save as much as 20 cents per gallon by selecting regular or mid-grade gasoline, according to a report in The New York Times.

    For gas station operators, this trend has created an imbalance at the pump, with regular gas selling like hot cakes. "Even people with the high-end cars are cutting corners and using the cheaper stuff," Dominick Vallera, a Hartford, Conn., Shell station manager told the paper. "It's got us constantly guessing how much to order."

    Last week, nearly two days went by as he waited for his next delivery. Frustrated motorists were faced with bright yellow bags over pump with a white sign underscoring the issue: no gas. And since orders are placed weekly, if a station runs out, there is nothing to do but wait.

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2007, premium accounted for 9.4 percent of all gasoline sales in the nation, down slightly from 9.5 percent the year before. In 1997, premium claimed 16.6 percent of the market. Last week, the department reported that consumers purchased an average 9.305 million barrels a day of motor fuels, 3.2 percent less than a year earlier.

    Automotive experts told the paper that following the manufacturer's instructions is recommended. Certain high-performance cars running regular gas can experience knocking and hesitation when accelerating, and possibly engine damage.

    Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the NACS, told The New York Times the biggest shift over the last year had been to mid-grade from premium.

    In the association's survey of 3,368 convenience stores that sell gasoline, premium sales in March were 0.4 percent lower than in April 2007, measured by volume, and sales of regular gasoline nationally fell by 1.4 percent. But mid-grade volume rose 15.6 percent in that time, the survey found.

    John Watts, the owner of Watts Petroleum in Lynchburg, Va., which supplies gasoline to stations, told the paper demand for regular gasoline is on the rise. "Things have gotten to where everyone is trying to game the system, and no one can afford to lose," he said.

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