NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Memorial Day vacationers are paying less at the pump vs. the same weekend last year, but analysts warned that you'll be paying more for gas deeper into the summer.
Of the 38 million Americans AAA anticipates will travel this weekend, 88% of them will be commuting by car and paying on average about $3.67 a gallon, which is about 1 cent less than last year at this time.
But that 1 cent change from a year ago could swing higher by 10 cents in less than three months.
"Unfortunately, I think they're going to go a little higher -- 5 to 10 cents on the retail side," Spartan Commodity Partners CEO Alan Harry said in an interview, adding that consumers are expected this summer to use a lot of unleaded gas, geopolitical risk remains priced into the marketplace and crude prices haven't tumbled, despite conditions that have suggested the commodity should pull back. "So I think it has a little bit more upside, unfortunately, especially coming into the busy weekend and a lot of driving."
The expected rise in prices, though, will follow a familiar pattern among drivers in California, Florida, New York, Massachusetts and others. Sure, the 1 cent drop in a year on the national average is something consumers can stomach, but the East Coast and California saw double-digit cent increases.
California prices this Memorial day are 11 cents higher, Floridians are paying 16 cents more, New Yorkers are paying 14 cents a gallon more and those in Massachusetts are paying about 17 cents more. Even Texans find themselves paying about 3 more cents a gallon at the gas station.
Higher prices at the beginning of the summer coast to coast with the prospect of more expensive gasoline bills ahead are largely due to the unexpected harsh winter weather, which in the first quarter throttled consumer spending and starved GDP to 0.1% growth.
"We probably would have been a lot cheaper than we were a year ago, except we had some bad luck with the weather to start off with and geopolitics on top of that," Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at PRICE Futures Group, said in a phone interview. "The refiners going into maintenance seemed everything took a bit longer to get things up and running and I think that put us behind the 8-ball because the refiners had a lot of issues because of the cold weather, so we started off on the wrong foot."
Stubborn crude oil prices, largely supported by uncertainties in Russia and Ukraine that emerged in March and remain in the headlines, also have contributed to higher gasoline prices at the start of the summer.
If you're wondering why a geopolitical problem in Europe is weighing on the American motorist, here's why: Crude oil produced in the United States is West Texas Intermediate, while the most commonly used oil in Europe is Brent crude.
U.S. pump prices are tied to Brent crude largely due to financial pressures.
TheStreet senior contributor Dan Dicker, wrote "Oil's Endless Bid," which points out that oil ETFs, oil futures and other commercial instruments backed by Brent crude oil and West Texas Intermediate chain the commodities to speculative bets and hedging by financial institutions.
"When you get enough financial players, including refiners, that are tethered to these financial products for hedging purposes or even for speculative purposes [then] that infrastructure gets ingrained so tight that you can't break it," Dicker said. "It's really kind of a goofy thing, but the financial connection continues."
Drivers may be paying more for their gasoline this summer, but the U.S. Energy Department suggested a few easy ways to decrease the burden.
For starters, obeying speed limits pays dividends. Certain calculators allow users to enter the year, make and model of their car to determine how much more by efficiency per gallon they'll pay.
Essentially, at a speed limit of 50 miles per hour in a 2012 Chevrolet Impala, manufactured by GM (GM), you'll get mileage at the equivalent of paying $3.67 (national average) per gallon. But let's say you're on an interstate with a 70-mile per hour speed limit and you're going 80, you'll pay nearly $1 more per gallon of gas (because you're burning through it quicker).
Avoid hauling cargo on the roof of your car, because it creates wind resistance, and remove unnecessary boxes and equipment from the trunk that you don't need. The Energy Department calculated that added weight can reduce a vehicle's miles per gallon by 2%. Roof cargo can push down that miles per gallon efficiency by as much as 25% at interstate speeds.
The Energy Department recommended that you avoid idling your engine: It wastes more gas (especially with the air conditioner running) but it only uses up a small amount of fuel to restart the engine -- and really there's more worry about wearing out your starter than squandering gas doing this.
Another trick is to use overdrive gears and cruise control. Overdrive reduces engine wear and cruise control keeps the car at a constant speed, preventing the engine from doing more work to speed up and slow down on unnecessary breaking or when you simply pull off the gas pedal.
Finally, AAA suggested simple precautions to take before you even pull out of the driveway.
Take your automobile for a tune up at the mechanic and download apps that will create the quickest routes between destinations.
Now, go enjoy vacation season.
-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.
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