Talk to a trucker if you think you’ve got it bad at the gas pump.

Drivers with smaller trucking companies, which transport key goods and supplies across the country, say it’s getting harder for them to fill their tanks as the price of diesel soars higher by the day.

The added financial woes for independent truckers risk worsening the supply chain crisis because some consider parking their big rigs for good.

Though all drivers have faced higher fuel prices at the pump since the Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupted the energy industry earlier this year, diesel prices have been growing at an even faster rate than regular gasoline, surpassing $6 per gallon in some places.

“Fuel is the single largest expense for a small business trucker,” Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said in an email. “Sudden jumps in price can be challenging to deal with. Some are able to mitigate with fuel surcharges but not all, such as independent truckers that work with brokers.”

The average price of diesel nationwide was $5.43 per gallon on Wednesday, more than $2 higher than last year, according to AAA, and beating the previous day’s record-setting price of $5.37. Unlike drivers who work for larger corporations, owner-operators must often absorb the jump in fuel costs themselves.

“Independent truckers and small trucking companies are particularly hurt by this crisis,” Ron Faulkner, president of the California Trucking Association, wrote recently in the Fresno Bee. “These companies operate in markets which do not always compensate for the increased cost of fuel."

"The impact to small fleets is especially concerning because more than 95% of the trucking companies in the country operate 20 or fewer trucks," Faulkner added. "These companies are the backbone of the industry and are struggling to keep up with out-of-control costs.”

Rapidly growing fuel expenses risk putting small trucking companies out of business and taking trucks off the road at a time when labor shortages in the industry are already wreaking havoc on the global supply chain, which has struggled to keep pace with demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Store shelves have been left bare in some places, and access to crucial building materials has been limited, among other things.

“Look around your house or your office. Everything in it, from the food in your fridge to the chair you are sitting in, to the phone or tablet on which you may be reading this article, was brought by a trucker,” Faulkner wrote. “And despite much progress on alternative fuels, diesel still fuels 97% of the big rigs on the road today.”

The growing costs of running a trucking business are also linked to the sky-high inflation levels consumers have seen across a range of goods and services.

“To cover the increased cost of diesel, truckers must increase the rates charged to haul freight,” Faulkner said. “These increased rates are then passed on to consumers via higher costs at the retail level. So, you are paying for high prices of fuel both at the pump and at the grocery checkout line.”

The U.S. Department of Labor has reported record-high inflation rates in recent months, both in costs to producers and consumers. In the last year, the consumer price index has risen 8.5% before seasonal adjustment — “the largest 12-month increase since the period ending December 1981,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics said last month.

Meanwhile, the producer price index “moved up 11.2 percent for the 12 months ended in March, the largest increase since 12-month data were first calculated in November 2010,” the bureau said.

“The index for final demand goods rose 2.3 percent in March, the same as in February,” the bureau wrote. “Over half of the broad-based advance in March can be traced to a 5.7-percent jump in prices for final demand energy.”

“Leading the March increase in the index for final demand goods, diesel fuel prices jumped 20.4 percent,” the bureau added.

Since many goods in the U.S. are transported by truck at least once before arriving at their final destination, a wide range of items could become even more costly as diesel prices continue to surge.

“America's trucking industry is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy,” the American Trucking Association said. “In fact, nearly every good consumed in the U.S. is put on a truck at some point. As a result, the trucking industry hauled 72.5% of all freight transported in the United States in 2019, equating to 11.84 billion tons. The trucking industry was a $791.7 billion industry in that same year, representing 80.4% of the nation’s freight bill.”

Truckers are also key to international trade, particularly with the United States's biggest trading partners, the American Trucking Associations noted. “Trucks transported 70.9% of the value of surface trade between the U.S. and Canada in 2020,” the group said, while the number for Mexico was even higher, at nearly 84%.

Though fuel prices increased in 2021 after dropping significantly at the start of the pandemic, they’ve spiked more drastically since late February, when Russian forces began their assault on Ukraine. As the U.S. and many of its allies issued sanctions against Russia and banned the import of its energy products, the price of fuel shot up further.

Since then, truck drivers have expressed concern about their ability to stay in business despite significantly higher fuel expenses. Some truckers say they have seen their totals at the pump double in recent months.

“Honestly, I woke up this morning wondering if I’m going to make payroll this week,” Marquis Kirk, owner of a small trucking company in Baltimore, told NBC last month.

“You go from spending $350-$400 to fill up a semi-truck, and now it costs over $1,000 to fill up that same semi-truck,” Josh Barron, a truck driving instructor, told a Michigan news station in March.

Edward Hayes, an owner-operator from Texas, told a local news station in North Carolina that he was paying about $850 to fill his tank — and had decided to park his truck as a result.

"It's not worth me moving the truck if I can't make a check and also pay for fuel," Hayes said.

Prices have been highest on the West Coast, particularly in California. The average price of diesel in California is currently $6.47 per gallon, according to AAA, a full dollar more than the national average.

Taylor, the spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told the Washington Examiner that the group had given its members “educational content that we put out on running a small business, costs of operations, [and] fuel surcharges” to try to help them adapt to the current situation.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, in late March, announced plans to release 1 million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for six months to help lower fuel prices as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.

“This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply until production ramps up later this year,” Biden said at the time. “And it is by far the largest release from our national reserve in our history.

“It will provide a historic amount of supply for a historic amount of time — a six-month bridge to the fall.”

On April 21, the administration announced that it had “awarded contracts for all of the initial 30 million barrels it put up for sale” and that the barrels “will be delivered in May and June,” adding that they “are the first U.S. sale in the largest release from reserves from both the United States and the rest of the world in history.”

Biden also called out U.S. oil companies that have resisted ramping up domestic production. “For U.S. oil companies that are recording their largest profits in years, they have a choice,” he said in March. “One, they can put those profits to productive use by producing more oil, restarting idle wells, or producing on the sites they already are leasing — giving the American people a break by passing some of the savings on to their customers and lowering the price at the pump.

“Or they can, as some of them are doing, exploit the situation: sit back, ship those profits to their investors, while American families struggle to make ends meet.”

U.S. oil industry executives had previously said that increasing production takes time and that the president’s stance toward domestic oil production has shifted dramatically since Russia’s assault began. Biden’s agenda since taking office has focused on investing in and promoting clean energy sources to curb the effects of climate change.

“The rhetoric has changed to some degree, but the policies have not,” Frank Macchiarola of the American Petroleum Institute told NBC in March. “I think the administration needs to reverse course on those series of policies that they put in place early on and take a hard look at the benefits that oil and natural gas provide the United States.”