A pipeline bursts. Gasoline spews out, and the flow of gas to distribution depots and stations slows to a halt. Suddenly, states of emergency are declared to prevent price gouging and to allow more tanker trucks to get through fully loaded to restock the stations. It happened last week in Alabama, affecting the southeastern U.S., including where I live in North Carolina.

The inevitable result: panic buying. Motorists stopping at every station that still has gas, topping off their tanks (even if it only takes eight-tenths of a gallon to fill up) causing stations to run dry before they can be resupplied. It’s frustrating for every other motorist who stays cool through the crisis, figuring out what they need to make it through. But there’s a much better way to handle this problem when it crops up, as we know it will inevitably at most inopportune times.

A key to being prepared for gasoline shortages is to know what kind of mileage your vehicle(s) get, and how far you drive on the average between fill-ups. This means recording odometer and/or trip distance meter readings off the dashboard. Each time you fill up your vehicle, keep your receipt and then check your distance readings from your last fill-up. Divide the total miles accumulated from your last gas purchase by the number of gallons you put in at your present fill-up and that will give you your vehicle’s gas mileage. This will help you know how much gas you need for your normal driving distances.

To keep more complete records of how far you drive and how much gas you’re using on a weekly basis, use a mileage app on your smartphone (there are a number of those), or get a daily planner/calendar with mileage log ┬ápages. You can go even simpler than that. My wife and I keep little memo books with a pen or pencil in our glove compartments, so that each time we stop for gas, we can record all ┬áthe necessary information. We write down the date, then the dollar amount of the gas we’ve bought, followed by the actual amount of gas we’ve put in the vehicle. Then we check the trip distance meter on the dashboard (usually underneath the odometer, or electronically imbedded within it and accessed by a pushbutton), record that number to determine the distance since our last fill-up, then clearing it back to zero. Then we write down the odometer reading to keep a more complete picture of mileage and driving distances. It rarely takes more than a couple of minutes for us to do this, and helps us immensely in measuring our vehicles’ performance as well as our driving habits.

Doing this simple record-keeping on your fuel consumption can save you needless panic and aggravation, as well as help prevent shortages occurring the next time a refinery has an explosion, or a pipeline bursts.