[singlepic=144,320,240,,left]AAA Carolinas expects availability of gasoline to rise throughout the Carolinas. Gasoline prices hit record highs in the region as a reaction to the threat of Hurricane Ike, which struck the coast of Texas, including Houston, Saturday morning.

“It’s important for motorists to continue to exercise restraint and only fill up their vehicles when necessary – when they have less than ¼ tank of gas – for the next several days,” said David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “Avoid panic pumping.”

Gasoline is available throughout the Carolinas today but “pocket problems” exist with some areas having less availability than others. Prices of gasoline in all areas of both states are at record highs, according to AAA Carolinas.

“Damage to the Texas area refineries and Gulf of Mexico oil rigs appears to be minimal, and gasoline deliveries will get back on track soon,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “During the next few days, availability will be sporadic and prices will remain high.”

Gasoline stations should begin receiving loads of gasoline today, although some stations may receive less than their normal supply.

Gasoline prices are high, surpassing the previous record highs set on July 17, when oil was trading at about $140 a barrel on the international market, said Parsons, and record prices began kicking in over the weekend throughout the Carolinas.

“Gas prices jumped when it was announced Hurricane Ike would cause oil rigs and refineries to close, temporarily curtailing gasoline deliveries in the Southeast,” said Parsons. Today is a record high average for both states: $4.121 per gallon of unleaded gasoline in South Carolina and 4.085 in North Carolina.

“Gasoline availability was made worse by the recent shuttering of refineries and rigs on the Louisiana coast from the earlier Hurricane Gustav and had not returned to normal production before the passage of Hurricane Ike,” said Parsons. “Both hurricanes contributed to a low supply of available gasoline, making gasoline prices more vulnerable and volatile.”

Right now, oil companies in the Houston area are assessing damage and the availability of electricity will be the key to getting back to production, said Parsons.

“In the best case scenario, it will likely take seven to 10 days to ramp up production to the pre-Hurricane Ike levels,” said Parsons.

During this time, AAA Carolinas recommends that motorists drive conservatively, use common sense—fill up gas tanks only when they dip below ¼ of a tank, and consolidate trips and use the household car that gets the best mileage.

Those motorists who believe that a gasoline station has excessively high prices can file complaints of price gouging by contacting North Carolina’s Attorney General’s Office at www.ncdoj.gov/consumerprotection to print out and send in a complaint form or call 1-877-5NO-SCAM (1-877-566-7226).

South Carolina’s Attorney General’s Office at gasprices@scattorneygeneral.com or (803) 734-3970.