Look out, Chicago: $5 gas headed your way

NEED TO KNOW
  • Analysts: Prices at the pump could hit $5 by Memorial Day
  • High oil prices, increasing exports driving gas prices up
  • Clark Howard says you better shop around!
Look out, Chicago: $5 gas headed your way

Attention, drivers: Get ready for some serious pain at the pump.

Analysts tell the Los Angeles Times that gas prices will hit $4 a gallon or more by spring, and -- hold on to your wallets -- could reach $5 over Memorial Day weekend.

And those are just average prices. GasBuddy.com, which posts prices from around the country as reported by its more than 300,000 member motorists, predicts record prices in major cities all over the map this spring. The site forecasts $4.95 a gallon in Chicago and $4.70 in Los Angeles, with record prices also hitting Philadelphia, Seattle, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco.

The single-day record average price for regular unleaded is $4.11 a gallon, which happened on July 17, 2008. By comparison, the average this morning, according to AAA, is $3.39, 29 cents higher than a year ago.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, joked to the Times that drivers with SUVs might consider calling their banks to get a credit-limit increase so they can afford to drive this summer. It’s funny because, well, it’s almost true.

So, why are gas prices rising, and expected to go so much higher? For starters, the price of crude oil from overseas is going up, and the U.S. is the world’s largest importer.

But the real surprise factor is that the pace of U.S. fuel exports has been picking up -- so much so that fuel is now the country’s top export. Last year marked the first time in more than 60 years that the U.S. was a net exporter of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

How does a country known for a culture of driving in gas-guzzling vehicles become a net exporter of fuel? Analysts say the weak economy has led people to drive fewer miles, and they’re doing so in more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. That means a surplus for domestic refiners, who are selling it to other countries.

So, as a driver, gas prices aren’t something you can control. What can you do to save money, besides walking, biking or taking the bus? Shop around! HLN Money Expert Clark Howard recommends checking different gas stations in your area. Prices can swing wildly from one to another, depending on how busy they are and what’s going on with gas prices.

It’s simple supply and demand: When prices are going up, you’ll get a better deal at stations that do less business, because they’re sitting on gas they need to get rid of. Conversely, when prices are falling, busier stations will be a better deal.

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