Petrol prices in Northern Ireland could soar to £6.50 a gallon before the end of the month, industry experts have warned.
The grim prediction comes just days after UK prices surpassed the psychological £6 a gallon threshold for the first time.
But record-breaking fuel prices were apparent here from the beginning of the week, where unleaded petrol cost almost £6.40 in some areas.
Diesel has already hit a staggering £6.70 a gallon at one filling station in Northern Ireland, according to a survey carried out by this newspaper.
Indeed, many motorists are now spending more on running their cars each month than keeping up with their mortgage repayments.
Hard-working hauliers also said they are being driven to the wall, as those who survive will have no option but to pass on their extra fuel costs.
And taxi drivers said they were facing longer working hours, with fewer members of the public opting for their services.
AA spokesman Luke Bosdet warned motorists to brace themselves for more misery as Northern Ireland maintained its unenviable position at the top of the fuel price league.
“In the worst case scenario petrol prices could easily reach £6.50 (142 pence per litre) a gallon within the next two weeks — particularly in remote areas where people in local communities will suffer badly,” he said.
Average petrol prices across the province hit 132.5ppl (£6.05) on Wednesday.
While diesel soared to 138.7p (£6.33), according to the UK’s leading comparison website.
A study of Petrolprices.com also revealed an 11p per litre difference between the dearest and cheapest unleaded petrol and a 14p diesel disparity at forecourts across the province.
DUP MP Nigel Dodds said the hefty price hikes risked plunging Northern Ireland back into recession.
“These massive increases in fuel prices are having a detrimental effect on people’s income, when day-to-day living costs have also soared immensely,” the party’s deputy leader said.
“Some households are now paying more on commuting than they are on their mortgages, which has made fuel costs one of Northern Ireland’s most serious issues.” Northern Ireland Road Haulage spokesman Phil Flanders said it was time for the Executive to intervene.
“Every time the price goes up hauliers meet more and more resistance from customers and many are being forced out of work,” he said.
Ballymena taxi driver Brian Wilson added: “I hardly ever see my wife or kids because I’m always on the road trying to put bread on the table.”
Meanwhile, high fuel prices have forced some people out of their cars completely.
Petrol prices hit £5 a gallon (110ppl) for the first time in Northern Ireland in April 2008, and £4 a gallon (0.88p) in August 2005.