Drivers pulling up to the pumps across the Central Valley probably are wishing they had a time machine.
Gas prices jumped as much as 50 cents a gallon in 24 hours in Modesto, ending a week of soaring costs that saw some stations charge record prices. Prices in other valley locations jumped about 15 cents overnight. The average price for regular gas across the state hit $4.49 a gallon, the highest in the nation, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report.
The pain at the pump was felt by commuters, vacationers and workers who watched anxiously as the sale counter kept ticking up and up and up.
"I just try not even to look anymore," said Modestan Lydia Savala as she put gas into her SUV at a Valero station in downtown Modesto. "I just put in $20 at a time now because the price to fill it is so high."
Savala commutes from Modesto to Riverbank for her job at a health center. While filling up Friday for $4.55 a gallon, she noted that gas was a good 60 cents cheaper the last time she was at the pump.
Next to her, 18-year-old Tyler McCarthy noticed the higher gas prices only after he pulled out his wallet. To fill his pickup's 26-gallon tank, it would cost more than $118. He put in two gallons and vowed to shop around next time. "I'm going to try to find a cheaper place or wait it out," said the Modesto resident.
California hit hard
Refinery issues have created shortages and helped send wholesale prices soaring, causing the jump at the pump. Prices have risen across the country, but Californians have felt the wallop particularly hard thanks to refinery and pipeline problems that have left the state with its lowest gasoline inventory in a decade.
"The retail prices haven't even seen the spike as much as the wholesale price," said Dale Boyett, president of Modesto-based Boyett Petroleum. "We're seeing more like a dollar more. All of this creates a domino effect."
An Aug. 6 fire at a Chevron Corp. refinery in Richmond left one of the region's largest refineries producing at a reduced capacity. A power failure in Southern California has affected an Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery, and a Chevron pipeline that moves crude to Northern California also was shut down.
The national average for gas is about $3.79 a gallon. In Modesto, gas averaged $4.46 a gallon, up 45 cents from a week ago, according to the Web site ModestoGasPrices.com.
For those who have to use their cars for a living, the spike has been particularly stressful.
United Cab owner Jay Akbari, whose fleet includes DeSoto and Metro cabs, said all the drivers himself included pay for their gas. So when prices soar, he said it can take as much as a fourth out of their take-home pay.
Fellow driver and DeSoto Cab manager William Knight said gas can cost $60 to $100 a day.
"I have tears coming out of my wallet when I pull up to the pump," Knight said. "Sometimes it feels like you're working for Chevron."
Akbari said to combat the rising fuel prices, he is trading in many of his fleet's gas guzzlers for hybrid vehicles. He has two and plans to add three more in coming months. He said drivers can save as much as $40 a shift with the more fuel-efficient vehicles.
"I'd love to have a whole fleet of hybrids," Akbari said. "The drivers love them and the customers love them. Especially now, when the jump in gas prices caught us all off guard."
For others who have to drive for a living, such as Chicago Pizza owner Lucky Chahal, the ballooning prices also cause concern. The downtown Modesto pizza shop offers free delivery, and Chahal pays for drivers' gas. But, he said, if prices stay this high, he might have to add a $1 delivery fee.
"The drivers want more money each time they go out to deliver pizza," he said. "It's getting higher every day. Jumping and jumping."
Switching to winter blend
Some analysts believe prices nationally will begin to decline soon, but say California could see a longer spike given its unique fuel requirements. Many suppliers are in the process of switching from the summer gas blend to the winter blend, which will begin being sold Nov. 1.
"That in particular is why I don't know if this is over yet," Boyett said. "If anyone tells you they know, they are lying."
Modesto resident Juan Ameccua wondered as well as he gased up his 18 mpg SUV at a Chevron station Friday afternoon for a family road trip to Pinecrest. The last time he filled up, he paid $3.99, this fill-up was $4.59 a gallon. Luckily, he has a more fuel-efficient Toyota sedan at home.
"This is our last trip of the summer, so we took out the big car," he said. "After this, it's staying in the garage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284.