Super strange gas station prices are popping up everywhere you drive these days. One gas station in the Clarkston area held its ground in mid-July at $5.19 a gallon, while another station less than a half mile away was $4.53 a gallon.
Sure, drivers have come to expect price differences but everyone does a double take when they see shocking price swings of 60 cents or more a gallon on the same short drive on the same day.
How could it even be normal to see that big of a fluctuation in the gas prices at different gas stations on quick trip to the mall or the daily commute to work?
“It’s absolutely abnormal,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
“Some stations are drastically higher or lower than another.”
GasBuddy has long promoted the value of shopping around for gas via the GasBuddy app, but typically you might be looking at saving 20 cents or 30 cents or more a gallon in some areas. That’s good money, sure.
Now, though, drivers are spotting even more dramatic ways to save money as gas prices fall from above $5 a gallon to a range of $4.10 to $4.80 in many spots in metro Detroit.
Gas prices contributed to pushing inflation to a 40-year high of 9.1% for the 12 months ending in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gas prices climbed 59.9% during those 12 months through June. By contrast, food was up 10.4%.
Could gas hit $4 and below soon?
The next few weeks are expected to be critical for gas prices, as many expect that drivers could see bigger breaks as recession fears weigh heavily on crude oil prices.
De Haan forecasts that metro Detroit drivers even soon will start to see gas priced below $4 a gallon.
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The Costco in Livonia had gas at $4.05 a gallon on Friday, according to GasBuddy. A BP station on Michigan Avenue and Mason in Dearborn had gas at $4.05 a gallon for cash purchases; a Citgo on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn also had gas at $4.05 a gallon for cash purchases.
Gas prices hit record highs this summer but then tumbled in July. The average peak in metro Detroit was $5.30 a gallon on June 13, according to GasBuddy, but the average fell to $4.77 a gallon by July 14.
Why are we seeing such wild swings?
Many people across the country, according to De Haan, are asking lately why one station is charging so much more than another or why another station isn’t dropping its gas prices more quickly.
Some stations are keeping prices fairly high. Others are dropping prices as quickly as possible to get a competitive edge.
“It’s really just a personal decision on how quickly stations want to lower prices,” De Haan said.
Much can depend on how fast the station sells gas and can pass along lower prices.
Some stations have yet to see their costs go down, De Haan said, if they bought their gas when prices were much higher several days ago.
De Haan said he’d expect gas prices to keep falling in the weeks ahead, especially if concerns about an economic slowdown or a recession in the United States continue. Prices won’t fall in unison, he predicted.
“When prices are going down, people have this false sense of security that every station is offering a price that’s drastically lower,” De Haan said.
But that’s not true — and you could easily overpay for gas now.
“Not every station is on the same page,” he said.
Yes, some stations are much cheaper than others
Driving around town it is not hard to find gas prices that can range from $4.10 a gallon to $4.80 a gallon at stations only a few miles away or less from each other.
The Citgo station at 12 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak, for example, often generates a line of drivers. On Friday, its cash price was $4.44 a gallon for regular and its credit card price was 10 cents a gallon higher.
By comparison, the Marathon on 12 Mile Road and Stephenson down the road in Madison Heights was at $4.70 for cash for regular and it too charged 10 cents a gallon more for credit card purchases.
But the price at the pump at Costco in Madison Heights was all the way down to $4.10 a gallon for members of the warehouse club.
In Michigan, the average price for regular unleaded gas was $4.674 a gallon around 3 p.m. July 15, according to GasBuddy. That’s up a bit from the national average of $4.556 a gallon for regular unleaded.
By contrast, Ohio’s average was $4.453 a gallon.
National gas prices, according to GasBuddy, are up an average $1.40 a gallon from a year ago but down 50 cents a gallon from the average just a month ago.
Where you drive matters
Where you drive and what you drive this summer, of course, matters a great deal.
AAA Michigan noted in its July 11 report that the most expensive gas price averages were: Marquette at an average of $5 a gallon, Ann Arbor at $4.94 and metro Detroit at $4.88 a gallon.
The least expensive gas price averages: Benton Harbor at $4.67 a gallon, Grand Rapids at $4.71 and Traverse City at an average $4.76 a gallon.
AAA also has a “Gas Cost Calculator” online at www.gasprices.aaa.com that can help you estimate how much you’d spend to fill up the tank on those summer trips, based on the car or truck you drive.
You could be looking at spending, for example, around $240 for gas for a Ford Explorer to make a 1,210 mile round trip from Detroit to Newark, New Jersey.
Michigan AAA noted that drivers were paying an average of $72 for a full 15-gallon tank of gasoline in early July, up about $21 from when the high gas prices last November.
Sure, no one would have treated gas at $4.10 a gallon as a bargain back in late February when the real deals were around $3.20 a gallon. But it sure is nicer than paying $5.20 or $5.30 a gallon like many drivers did back in June.
ContactSusan Tompor via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@tompor. To subscribe, please go to freep.com/specialoffer. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.
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