Americans Pay More for Gas When It Is Cheap

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U.S. drivers could save more than $60 a month on gasoline by shopping around. That is especially true during periods, like now, when pump prices are relatively low.

This seeming incongruity is due to the variation in pump prices — called the “spread” — that results when prices are low. For example, in 2012, when the average pump price was $3.61 a gallon, the spread was just $0.95 between the highest priced gasoline and the lowest priced. In 2016, when the average price per gallon dropped to $2.13, the spread rose to $1.13 a gallon.

That means that you could have been paying up to $1.13 more per gallon last year than you needed to be.

Researchers at GasBuddy compiled the data based on gas prices at the top 5% of gas stations compared with prices in the bottom 5% of stations.

For the first three months of 2017, a driver in Washington, D.C., could pay up to 35% more for a gallon of gas based on a price of $3.42 at the more expensive gas stations and $2.22 at the low-priced gas stations. That $1.20 difference could amount to an overpayment for gas of $63 a month, according to GasBuddy.

The spread in San Francisco was 30% ($1.13 a gallon); in Los Angeles ($0.93) and Chicago ($0.80) it was 27%; in New York City it was 23% ($0.72).

Senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy said:

Spreads can vary based on factors like local competition and geographic location. We noticed some commonalities amongst the cities ranked the highest: they tend to be sprawling with a major connecting highway running through them. Additionally, they have the presence of a large warehouse retailer in the market. The good news for drivers in these areas is that there are opportunities to save money if you know where to look and choose to shop wisely.