More drivers running out of gas, amid high gas prices

The Motorist Assistance Program and Tow and Go, run by Houston TranStar and the Houston-Galveston Area Council, say they're finding an uptick in drivers running out of gas on freeways or having tire and mechanical issues.

We hit the roads with Tow and Go to see how inflation is bringing some drivers to a halt.

MORE: How to coupon for beginners, save on groceries during inflation

It was another busy day for Rico Luna.  We followed the Tow and Go tow truck operators, searching for drivers in distress. It didn't take long to find some.

"I'm with the Tow and Go program. We’ll take you to the gas station. It’s free to you," said Rico to a mother and two children, pulled over on the side of the freeway.

The free Tow and Go and Motorist Assistance Programs say they're seeing more drivers running out of gas. 

"I had some tow operators tell me they towed seven people off the freeway, and they were all out of gas that time," said David Fink with the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

"I was coming from the clinic and I ran out of gas. I was coming to this gas station," said that stranded mother Maria Vega after Rico towed her to a nearby gas station.

MORE: More people using online grocery shopping to save money amid inflation

Even with a gallon left in the tank, drivers can stall on an incline.

"Gravity takes it back from your fuel pump pickup, and you’ll stall out on the road," said Fink.  

Right behind that gas-out was a blowout.

"You have a flat tire?" Rico asked the driver of a car pulled over behind Vega's.

"Yah, I’m getting a flat bed up here for you."

That's another problem, they say, tires blowing out.

"The hotter the cement is, the tires will fail. If the tires are under-inflated, they will fail," said Lt. Cedrick Collier, who oversees the Motorist Assistance Program for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

And they say more drivers are having mechanical issues, perhaps, because they've been trying to avoid the accelerating costs of new tires, oil changes, batteries, and new and used cars.


"With the price of everything, using their car longer than they would have traded it in, or not doing proper maintenance," said Collier.

Reasons that Tow and Go and AAA urge drivers to keep gas tanks at least a quarter full, and keep up with oil, coolant, and tire pressure.  

While a tow from Rico is free, the cost in repairs and safety is much higher.  

Nationwide, AAA says it has responded to 310,669 out-of-gas calls so far this year.  It says that's on par with 2019.  AAA in Texas reports calls for gas-outs are up 1% this year.

MORE: Available resources for Houston-area seniors struggling with inflation

AAA warns that running out of gas can not only put drivers in danger on the road, it can result in costly repairs.

Most modern cars have their fuel pump in the fuel tank which requires a constant flow of fuel to lubricate and cool them during operation.  Running a vehicle extremely low on fuel can allow air to be drawn into the pump, which can cause overheating and increased wear that eventually leads to pump failure. The cost to replace a fuel pump can be $500 or more in parts and labor.

Here are some types of auto maintenance you can do yourself to save cash:

Change your own oil 

Change your own coolant

Replace worn spark plugs 

Restore dull headlights

Clean your battery terminals

Replace your own air filter

Change your own wiper blades