Gasoline prices are soaring again, after a little respite in mid-April. At last check, the national average for a regular gallon of gas stood at $4.40. That’s up about 50 percent from a year ago and sets a new record high. It surpasses the previous high of $4.33 per gallon, set in March. In the past two weeks prices at the pump have jumped 20 cents. Since Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, gas prices have risen about 80 cents per gallon.
That surge at the pump has left many Americans scratching their heads. Just when they thought gas prices were finally bottoming out, they set new highs. While the war in Ukraine can be blamed, it’s not the only cause of soaring prices. For April the Consumer Price Index, a broad measure of the prices of goods and services, jumped 8.3 percent year-over-year.
Here are four reasons you’re paying more at the pump now and will into the foreseeable future.
1. Crude oil prices
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a direct impact on the price of crude oil and, thus, the amount you pay at the pump. With the war nearing its third month and with no end in sight, Russia will continue to be a big culprit for rising gas prices. Last week was a great example. The global price for crude oil skyrocketed after the European Union announced it would ban the use of Russian oil over the next six months. That sent the price of crude oil up $10 a barrel last week, according to Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA Northeast. “Crude oil makes up 50 percent of gasoline. It’s the main ingredient and is now much more expensive,” he says. Even Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it will sell crude oil to European and Asian customers at a discount may not help. “Saudi Arabia may sell at a discount, but they didn’t say they will produce more. Even with a discount, everybody has the same amount of crude oil,” Sinclair points out.
2. Weather extremes
Hurricane season in the U.S. kicks off June 1 and is expected to be a busy one. Although that is not exerting pressure on gas prices today, it takes only one storm on the Gulf Coast for those prices to be off the charts tomorrow, Sinclair says. According to Colorado State University’s Seasonal Hurricane Forecasting Report, 19 storms are expected this year, with nine of them hurricanes. That compares with 14.4 storms and 7.2 hurricanes, on average, from 1991 through 2020. The university expects four major hurricanes this season, instead of the average 3.2. “We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean,” the university wrote in its forecasting report.
Join today and save 25% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
3. Switch to summer blends
As the weather gets warmer refiners switch to summer blends of gasoline, which have lower vapor pressure, helping to prevent the evaporation of gas in the summer sun. This blend also costs more, which puts further upward pressure on gasoline prices. “They were supposed to make the switch to more expensive blends of summer gasoline in April, but we’ve come to find out they are still using winter gasoline until June 1,” Sinclair says. Once refiners make the switch, gas prices could increase even more, he warns. Sinclair notes that the use of the summer blend was suspended after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 but that similar discussions are not occurring today. “They are really limited in what they can do. The price of crude oil is a globally priced commodity.”
4. Summer travel demand
Despite rising gas prices and 40-year-high inflation, people across the country still plan to take vacations in the coming season. Since upward of 80 percent to 90 percent of summer trips are made via motor vehicles, according to AAA, demand for gas is expected to increase, driving prices up.
So, what will make gas prices come down, short of some intervention by the government? According to Sinclair, the picture looks bleak for the next few months. “The end of summer-driving season is the only thing I see in the future that could make a difference. The situation with Russia looks like it’s going to be ongoing, and that’s a major hit.”
To keep costs down, Sinclair offers these two tips:
- Maintain proper tire pressure. Thirty percent of the engine’s energy is used to overcome rolling resistance of the tires, Sinclair explains. Every pound per square inch of underinflated tire uses nearly 1 percent of fuel economy per tire.
- Slow down. Speeding is not only dangerous but also wastes gas. According to Sinclair, every 5 miles per hour over 50 adds about 25 cents per gallon. “Your engine works harder to overcome increased wind resistance at higher speeds.”
Donna Fuscaldo is a contributing writer and editor focusing on personal finance and health. She has spent over two decades writing and covering news for several national outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investopedia and HerMoney.