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Pump prices at AAFES gas stations in Europe on Saturday will reach a record high for the third straight week, and those higher prices are forcing some motorists to change their driving habits.

At midnight Friday, a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline at AAFES stations will cost $3.384 a gallon in Germany, an 11.5-cent increase over last week. Prices for other grades climbed as well: 11.1 cents for a gallon of mid-grade, 11.4 cents for premium and 3 cents a gallon for diesel.

The price increases mirror the price hike in the States, where the average price of self-serve regular gasoline hit $3.218.

Troops in Europe say the rising prices are hard to swallow.

“Our car gets 28 miles to the gallon in the city, and it’s still killing us,” said Sgt. Mark De La Cruz of the 32nd Signal Battalion in Darmstadt.

“What we used to pay for a full tank now gets us just over half,” said De La Cruz, who shares a car with his wife, Flora.

Because of the high price of gas, “You can’t just go where you want to go. You’ve got to ask, ‘How much does it cost to get there, how much does it cost to get back?’” he said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

AAFES customers can catch a little break from the climbing prices by buying coupon books at the current price. A savvy customer who purchased coupon books two months ago would be saving 64 cents a gallon right now.

That’s what Spc. Stuart J. Wichman, also of the 32nd Signal Battalion, says he does.

“I cheat,” he said. “When the gas prices are low, I buy the little … books.”

He thinks he paid about $2.84 a gallon for 500 liters of fuel after returning from Iraq late last year. He said he only uses the coupons when the gas prices get out of hand. Lately, he’s been using a lot of coupons, and said he’s now on his last 100 liters.

The reason for the rising prices isn’t exactly clear, according to The Associated Press. Nigerian insurgents have curtailed production by about 800,000 barrels a day, but there hasn’t been any major cut in crude oil supplies, and crude oil inventories are adequate. Instead, industry analysts blame a series of refinery accidents, breakdowns and maintenance closings that have choked off enough gasoline production to drive up prices — and refinery profit margins — just before the summer driving season.

None of that sits well with Sgt. Charles Mason of Darmstadt.

“How about a real reason for why they’re going up, because it’s ridiculous,” he said in answer to what he thought about gas prices. He said he knows AAFES prices are going up because stateside prices are increasing, but the reason for that hasn’t been fully explained, he said.

He’d buy less gas if he could, but, “I don’t have a choice,” he said. He lives in Wiesbaden, works in Darmstadt and makes the 20-minute commute every day in his Opel Vectra, so he’s feeling the pinch on his wallet.

Air Force Capt. Darrin Davis, a mission planning officer with the 100th Operations Support Squadron on RAF Mildenhall, England, said the prices are forcing him to seek alternate forms of transportation.

“Anything over $3 a gallon, I’d cut back on my travel plans,” said Davis, who thought about driving up to Edinburgh, Scotland, this holiday weekend. “It’ll probably force me to take a train or stay local.”

Even with high gas prices causing financial hardship for many Americans, most motorists still plan to stick to the roads at least until pump prices climb another dollar, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll found that nearly six in 10 Americans say that near-record gasoline prices are a hardship, but only 11 percent said that soaring prices would curtail their driving habits in the coming weeks. Three in 10 said they might skip a summer road trip.

The average price that drivers said would compel them to significantly cut back on their driving was $4.38 a gallon. In the western United States, where gasoline prices are typically higher than in the rest of the country, the average respondent said the price would have to hit $5.12 a gallon.

“Eventually no one’s going to be driving cars, they’ll all be riding bikes,” De La Cruz said. “When gas hits like $8 a gallon, I’d like to see what happens.”

For a list of current AAFES gas prices in Europe and elsewhere, see Page 14.

Stars and Stripes reporters Matt Millham and Sean Kimmons and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Gas prices in Europe

For the week of May 26-June 1, 2007

(With changes since last week, in cents)

Country

unleaded super unleaded super plus

diesel diesel coupon

Germany $3.384

(+11.5) $3.474

(+11.1) $3.564

(+11.4) $2.969

(+3.0) --

Netherlands -- $3.544

(+6.4) $3.812

(+6.4) $3.070

(+2.8) --

U.K. -- $3.423

(+11.1) $3.513

(+11.4) $2.918

(+3.0) --

Azores -- $3.520

(+11.0) -- -- --

Turkey -- $3.470

(+11.4) -- -- *$2.875

(+3.0)

Italy -- -- -- -- --

*-Diesel EFD

Gas prices in the Pacific

For the week of May 26-June 1, 2007

(With changes since last week, in cents)

Country Midgrade

unleaded Premium unleaded

Unleaded

Diesel

Japan/Okinawa $3.127

(+11.1) -- -- $2.622

(-3.0)

S. Korea -- $3.465

(+11.4) $3.285

(+11.5) $2.870

(+3.0)

Guam **$3.369

(+11.0) $3.459

(+11.0) $3.279

(+11.0) --

**-Midgrade

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