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Over the last two weeks, gasoline prices have risen by 17 cents a gallon on average nationwide. In California, it's even worse. The state's refineries are going through scheduled winter maintenance and many of them have to come off line to do that. Gasoline prices are already over $4 a gallon in Los Angeles county.
"Once gasoline starts hitting four bucks a gallon, people start to lose their patience," says Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Oil & Gas, an independent energy company based in Dallas.
Faulkner says geopolitics will continue to underpin oil prices and undermine American drivers.
Whether it's Islamic terrorists going after oil companies in Algeria, or hedge funds revving up their speculative bets on oil futures, if West Texas Intermediate is over $100 by the time Memorial Day rolls around in just three and a half short months, this American summer's going to be a costly one for gasoline.
There's not too much one can do about gas prices, except maybe this:
1. Fuel Additives: I'm too lazy to do this, and think that by spending $6.99 on a fuel system cleaner to save $2 on gas is the wrong way to beat the oil companies, but Faulkner disagrees. Over time, it's good for the engine and, with the right product, that's going to be good for the car. "Fuel additives that you can pick up at a Pep Boys or the local gas station, stuff like STP, all make your engine run at peak efficiency and that matters for fuel economy," says Faulkner. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has tested supposed gas-saving devices - including "mixture enhancers" - and found that very few provided any fuel economy benefits. Those devices that did work provided only a slight improvement in gas mileage. Eh, it's better than nothing.
2. Fill 'Er Up Locally: I'm horrible at this. I seem to enjoy paying through the nose because I like convenience, but hell...I drive a Prius. Anyway, Breitling CEO Faulkner says steer clear of the gasoline stations that line the highways. "If you're working in downtown Los Angeles, you do not want to go there on E. Gas stations downtown are going to run you over five dollars a gallon. Fill up in the suburbs. It's still over four, but at least it's not five," he says. There are specialized phone apps and websites that can help you find the cheapest gas prices in your area.
And my favorite, one I've never heard before:
3. Never Ever on a Thursday: When I was in grade school, my grandmother used to sing me this song by The Chordettes called Never on a Sunday, so that's where I came up with this one: never ever fill up on a Thursday, because Wednesday is best. "Gas station owners tend to raise prices on Thursday ahead of the peak demand weekends when everyone is off to Home Depot or the super market. You want to fill up before 10 A.M. on Thursday to beat the price hikes. If you can do that, you'll beat rising gasoline prices heading into Friday and Saturday," Faulkner advises.
As a Prius owner, one thing I've learned by looking at the ECO drive gauge on my dashboard is that when I'm in hybrid mode, meaning my gasoline engine and electric engine are working together, my gas mileage immediately declines by at least half. In full eco-mode I'm getting well over 50 miles per gallon and sometimes 100 miles per gallon. Soon as the gasoline engine kicks in, it drops precipitously. When I step on the gas pedal like my former teenage-self in an Iroc Z-28, the Prius' gas gauge goes to maybe five to 10 miles per gallon. The Prius has really taught me how to drive.
Driving within the speed limit and avoiding jack rabbit starts after red lights also help improve gasoline consumption. Less gas burned, means less times gassing up. And, quite frankly, other than owning a high MPG vehicle, there is not much consumers can do to outwit, outplay and outlast ExxonMobil.
The East Side Mobile gas station on 2nd Ave in lower Manhattan is over $4.39 a gallon for regular unleaded despite a sluggish economy. The Shell NJ-37 heading into Seaside Heights on the Jersey Shore is a cheap $3.51 a gallon; good for JWOWW. The Shell on Royal Palm Ave in Miami Beach is fetching $3.93 for unleaded. And the Mobil on Santa Monica Blvd and Lincoln: $4.29 a whop. In the 'burbs of Texas, the Phillips 66 on Pasadena Blvd in southeast Houston has unleaded going for $3.25 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.com.
This year might beat 2012 when it comes to gasoline inflation. "If prices do come down, they will come down slowly. If prices stay at these levels now into May, it will be more expensive to gas up this summer than it was last," Faulker says.