PhotoThe price of gasoline has been relatively low for nearly two and a half years. The drop, which began in late 2014, followed 11 years of near record high prices at the pump.

But while consumers are far better off than they were in 2012, Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, says right now is when consumers are in greatest danger of overpaying for fuel. He says GasBuddy conducted a study that demonstrates just how much we're overpaying.

Think of it this way. When prices are sky-high, you probably search out the cheapest gas station in your area before filling up. Now, when prices are relatively low, just about any station will do.

But DeHaan says stations tend to charge closer to the same amount for gas when prices are high. When they're low, there can be a wide variation in the same city.

Tranquility and affordability

“We're in a relative period of tranquility and affordability at the pump, and so the data suggests Americans are at particular risk right now of overspending on gasoline,” DeHaan said. “And we expect that to continue for some time.”

To prove the point, DeHaan says GasBuddy looked at the last seven years of gas price data. In 2012, the national average was $3.61 a gallon. However, the price spread between the 5% of stations with the highest price and the 5% with the lowest price was only 95 cents a gallon.

But last year, when the national average was a much more affordable $2.13 a gallon, the spread increased to $1.13 a gallon.

Price complacency

Prices are not only still low, but they are also lower than expected for this time of year, due to the unexpected drop in oil prices. DeHaan says it could mean motorists have gotten a little complacent about the price they pay.

In Washington, DC, he notes, the spread between highest and lowest stations is $1.21 a gallon. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, the spread is around $1.

In some large metros, DeHaan says consumers can pocket $60 a month just by being selective about where they fill up.


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