February 7, 2013

Gas prices rise sharply in California

After a nice dip during the holidays, gas prices are again on the rise in California.

Average California gasoline prices jumped 23 cents in the past week, passing $4 a gallon in Los Angeles, fuel surveys show.

Locally, AAA says, unleaded gas is selling for an average of $3.76 a gallon, up 33 cents in a month. The national average is $3.52, up 17 cents from a week ago.

It's not news to people such as Kayla Loretelli, who filled up her car Thursday at a Chevron station charging $3.95 in Modesto.

"I drive a good amount every day," said Loretelli, who attends California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock and works across town.

Joseph Robbiano said he was well aware of the recent price increase. "I've put 16,000 miles on my car since July," said Robbiano, who commutes from his home in Riverbank to a job in Tracy. "It cost me $68 just to fill up the tank, and it's a Honda Accord."

The recent price surge follows a year in which the nation's motorists spent a greater percentage of their annual income on gasoline than at any time in the past three decades, the U.S. Energy Department said. Gasoline expenditures were higher despite a sharp improvement in automobile fuel economy, according to a separate report.

The average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline in California jumped to $3.914 on Monday, up 23.4 cents from a week earlier, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. The Energy Department reported a similar increase for California of 22.8 cents a gallon, to $3.904, in its price survey.

But California isn't alone. In the Midwest, prices jumped 22.8 cents over the past week, according to the Energy Department. That helped drive the U.S. average for a gallon of regular to its highest average ever for this week, up 18.1 cents to $3.538 a gallon.

In 2012, Americans paid a record average of $3.618 for a gallon of regular gasoline, up from $3.521 in 2011, according to the Energy Department. The 2011 average was a record, too, and a whopping 73.9 cents a gallon more than in 2010.

The Energy Department says U.S. households spent an average of $2,912 on gasoline in 2012, or almost 4 percent of their pretax income, the highest percentage in 30 years.

"The effect of the higher prices in 2011 and 2012 outweighed the effect of reduced consumption," the Energy Department said.

Researchers at the University of Michigan said Monday that the average fuel economy for new vehicles sold in the United States reached a record 24.5 mpg in January, up 0.4 mpg from a revised figure for December.

Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that most Americans "are likely to spend almost as much on gasoline over the life of their vehicle as its original cost."

"You're basically paying for a second car every 15 years. The only thing really benefiting from your oil use is oil companies' bottom line," said Joshua Goldman, the report's author and a policy analyst for the advocacy group.

Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra contributed to this report.

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