According to the Energy Information Administration, the average price for regular unleaded rose 6.3 cents over the past week, and is up 49 cents from a year ago, to $2.26 a gallon. And prices are expected to go even higher, hitting $2.35 a gallon next month, as the busy summer driving season approaches.
But the AAA's Robert Sinclair tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith there are
In addition to keeping your vehicle in good running condition, Sinclair stresses that keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your mileage: "Most people are driving around on under-inflated tires. It increases rolling resistance, puts more strain on the engine, burns up more fuel. Get that tire pressure gauge out. Find out what the manufacturer specifications are for your tire pressure, and pump those tires up."
Where does Sinclair see prices heading in the immediate future? He acknowledges that's a tough call: "Generally around summer driving season, which starts with the Memorial Day holiday, we see prices go up. But we're already in record territory.
"Last year, we set the all-time record in June. This year, we broke it in March. We're well ahead of where we were. And we think there's a lot of speculation in the price of crude oil; that it's overblown and it might be set up to go down. But it's hard to say exactly what's going to happen."
Recent rises, Sinclar says, have been driven by the volatility in the price of crude oil, particularly in light of heavy demand from China and India, whose economies are bustling. The competition for available crude pushes prices up.
Also fueling the increases is that, across much of the U.S., starting already in California, "We're switching over to summer grades of gasoline, those more-expensive-to-refine, cleaner-burning fuels that have to be used in most major markets.
"And when you couple that fact with the fact that demand continues to go up and we don't really have sufficient refinery capacity to keep up with demand during the summer driving season, that's why prices continue to spiral."
Sinclair adds that even an increase in OPEC output may not make much difference: "Even last summer, when we had high prices, people still took their driving trips. There was no slowing down in that. And if we see those kind of conditions this summer, we might be barely scraping capacity, where we're just able to keep up with demand. It's hard to tell."