$144 for a tank of gas? No sweat for Hummer lovers

With water up to the windows, mud covering the truck's bright blue paint and a steep hill ahead, most drivers would be calling for help.

Bill Hawes isn't worried.

With the push of a button, he lets a bit of air out of the tires of his H1 Hummer and tries again.

“You just keep turning the wheel and hitting the gas,” he says. “The truck knows what to do.”

Seconds later, the water recedes as Hawes climbs the incline with ease. At the top, he turns to his passengers.

“Ready to try it going down now?”

For Hawes, 53, and a loyal group of Hummer owners across the region, it's the reassurance that their vehicles can tackle any terrain – and the fun they provide – that makes gas prices an afterthought.

Hawes, a plumber who lives in Mount Ulla, about 35 miles north of Charlotte, owns four Hummers. He bought his latest H1 last year and said gas prices haven't changed his Hummer driving habits.

“The shock at the pump is nothing compared to the thrill of the ride,” he said.

That dedication continues even as General Motors has placed the Hummer brand under “strategic review” and the cost to fill their tanks have left other SUV owners pining for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“It's feeling my floor boards of my truck wading in the water and water coming in the back doors and not worrying about it that I love about my H1,” said Marshall Henderson, president of the National Hummer Club and a Mooresville resident. “People like me aren't going to trade that for a few extra dollars at the pump.”

Henderson, 49, owns two Hummers – a H2 he bought in 2002 and a H1 he got in early 2003 after seeing its superior off-roading capabilities on the trails at Hawes' farm. He estimated that he gets 10 to 12 miles per gallon in his H1 and 13 to 14 miles per gallon in his H2.

With a 32-gallon tank that requires premium-grade gas, his H2 costs about $144 to fill up. His H1 runs on diesel and has two tanks – a 25 gallon and a 17 gallon. That's $202.86 to fill up at the Charlotte-area average of $4.83 a gallon.

For Henderson, who works in manufacturing, the Hummers are mostly hobby trucks, used for off-roading. He said he has always driven a Honda around town, even before gas prices sky-rocketed.

He said the same goes for a majority of the 2,500 members of the National Hummer Club, who travel to 10 to 15 off-roading events around the country every year.

Henderson said 24 members are active in the Charlotte area. And according to the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, 5,028 Hummers are registered statewide.

Normally, 50 to 60 Hummers can be seen at off-road events, but Henderson said he has noticed lower attendance this year.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the economy,” he said. “People can't afford to take the time off from work to drive for events far away, so most people are staying more local.”

Raleigh resident Chris Benson, a member of the Carolina Hummer Owners Group, said that while others are trying to cut gas costs, he spends less in other places to afford the gas. He drives his H1 to his job in information security in addition to off-roading.

“I can cut out other things like eating lunch out at work to be able to drive my truck everyday,” said Benson, 34, who spends $130 to $140 every two weeks in gas.

“When you're a Hummer driver this really gets to be one of your priorities, which I think makes us different from other drivers.”

Benson said the people who are looking to off-load their Hummers due to high gas prices are those who never used them to their full capacity.

“The people who may have just bought into it for the name and now can't afford the package, those are going to be the people who are selling them off,” he said. “For us, it's an extension of our personalities.”

A possible sale or end to the Hummer brand doesn't scare some Hummer owners.

“Hummer lovers are resourceful – we'll still keep riding and having events,” said Hawes. “They just better honor their warranty because I've got three years left on mine.”

Some Hummer drivers said the trucks' handling capabilities originally drew them in, but the comradery among owners has fueled their Hummer addiction.

“It takes a certain type of person to pay $100,000 for a bulky looking, loud, uncomfortable vehicle,” Henderson said. “Luckily for us those same types of people will go out of their way to help another Hummer owner out.

“It's a lifestyle and it's going to take a lot to give that up. Hummer owners are in it for the long haul.”