Filling your tank
February 24, 2012
Filling my tank yesterday was a sobering experience. Mid-grade gas was $3.76 a gallon at one of those “less expensive” stations. I began to wonder what I could go without if prices stayed so high. It's almost an extra $10 a week ($50 a tank vs. about $42) at these prices, and I have a small car.
Then I remembered: last weekend I was in New York and had to fill up before leaving Manhattan. I paid $4.05 a gallon. Suddenly, $3.76 didn't seem so high.
Prices in Massachusetts aren't the highest in the country. Indeed, according to this national map of gasoline prices, New York and Connecticut are significantly higher. But you'd have to go all the way to Wyoming to get much closer to $3 a gallon. And all of California is $4 or more per gallon.
This graph from the California Energy Commission shows how prices get that high, and state excise taxes are only $.35 cents a gallon of it. Apparently, crude oil prices, now at $2.87 per gallon, account for the majority of the cost.
Nevertheless the cost of gasoline is shaping up as a hot political topic during this year's presidential race. There's a question whether a reduction in US exports would ease the burden on citizens paying high prices, but this Wall Street Journal blog says it's global issues, not domestic, driving the prices.
Still, the issue will vex politicians, who are all hoping for an end to the recession. This article suggests that people will spend less, slowing economic recovery, if gas prices hover near $4/gallon. That means fewer vacations and perhaps a continued conservative approach to home sales and other activity that stimulates the economy.
Maybe now you're warming up to the idea of a hybrid for your next car? This chart from Consumer Reports shows the cost over time of a hybrid and how long it takes to pay back the difference between its purchase price and the price of a similar car with a normal internal combustion engine. And there can be other benefits to hybrids as well: some get preferential treatment in HOV lanes, such as the Chevy Volt in California, where skating past traffic jams is sublime.