Why is it so hard to cut dependence on gasoline?

Reynolds Tanner (left) and his son, Ryan, fill more than 20 gas cans at a gas station in Sebring, Fla.
Reynolds Tanner (left) and his son, Ryan, fill more than 20 gas cans at a gas station in Sebring, Fla.
AP Photo/Kathy Waters

Gasoline dependence, particularly in North America and Europe, stretches back more than a century -- to the dawn of the automotive age. And even though more than 100 years ago there were alternative fuels available like electricity and steam, gasoline eventually won out for being cheap and convenient -- two of the main reasons it's still so hard cut our dependence on gasoline.

Not only do passenger vehicles like cars and trucks (and yes, even hybrids) rely on gasoline, but delivery services like the U.S. Post Office, the United Parcel Service of America (UPS) and FedEx count on it, too, for bringing packages from warehouses to your front door. For that matter, gasoline powers the semi trucks that carry vegetables, clothing, furniture, medicines and even gasoline itself, from farms or factories to cities and stores so that we can shop for the goods. And don't forget most lawn mowers, weed whackers, chainsaws and wood chippers run on gasoline also. And so do motor boats, motorcycles and hot rods that we enjoy in our leisure time, too. In all, the United States consumes about 25 percent of the world's oil. So, of course, it's going to be hard to cut gasoline dependence when we've come to rely on it for so many things.


Our gasoline dependence is relatively easy to maintain, too, especially since we have the infrastructure already in place. Gas stations can be found all around the world, and cars that run on gasoline can basically be found as cheap or as expensive as a person can afford. And while there are certain innovations that can help cut gasoline dependence, like hybrid car technology, for instance, the basic gasoline-powered combustion engines we use every day remain mostly unchanged.

However, there are more and more alternative fuels coming to market that can help us further reduce our dependence on gasoline, like ethanol fuel vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell cars and even all-electric cars. And even though research and development of new technology is a lot more expensive than simply continuing to rely on a well-refined 100-year-old combustion engine design, as more auto companies begin (or continue) to build alternative-fuel vehicles, and more people begin (or continue) to purchase these cars, the cost of manufacturing will eventually come down, too.

To learn more about how to cut gas dependence and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.


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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • E-Fuel Corporation. "E-Fuel100, Earth's First Home Ethanol System." (Sept. 16, 2009)http://www.microfueler.com/
  • Lee, Mike. "Iceland the First Country to Try Abandoning Gasoline." ABC News. Jan. 18, 2005. (Sept. 16, 2009) http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=1518556
  • Sarfin, Barry. "Alternatives to Oil Dependency." PBS. Jan. 7, 2005. (Sept. 16, 2009) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/journaleditorialreport/010705/energy.html