Gas prices still high but are leveling off

11/14/2012 9:00 PM

11/15/2012 12:22 AM

Those planning to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday or just hoping to save a few bucks to spend for Christmas can be thankful for a decline in gasoline prices.

After weeks of painful price spikes, AAA Northern California reported this week that its latest monthly survey of pump prices around the state showed the trend has dramatically reversed course.

Every metropolitan area in Northern California saw a decline in the price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas by at least 69 cents over the previous month, according to AAA.

In Merced, the average price of gas was $3.80 on Wednesday, according to Gasbuddy.com. The Web site, which tracks prices reported by consumers, indicated that the price has dropped 9 cents in the past week and 79 cents -- from $4.59 -- in the past month.

AAA reported that the least expensive average price in Northern California can be found just up the road from Merced in Modesto, where regular is $3.65 per gallon -- down 89 cents from a month ago.

This comes at a good time for valley consumers, who have been struggling since the housing market collapse and Great Recession put the region's economy into a tailspin six years ago.

Price relief at the pump will put a little more money back in people's pockets as they prepare for the holiday shopping season, which kicks off on Black Friday, Nov. 23.

Northern California gas prices now average $3.82, down 81 cents from last month. In the Bay Area, motorists can expect to pay an average price of $3.98, which is a 76 cent decrease from last month.

The statewide average for a gallon of regular is $3.85, down 82 cents from last month's AAA report on Oct. 9. Still, that's 2 cents more than California's average price on this date last year.

So the relief, while likely welcome by consumers, is tempered by the fact that prices in a place such as Merced are still nearly $4 a gallon for regular. But the expectation is that prices, while still high, will continue to fall.

"Lower crude oil prices, the seasonal switch from summer to winter blend, and reduced demand have added to the recent downward pressure on retail gasoline prices," AAA Northern spokesperson Cynthia Harris said in a statement.

"With continued signs of global economic weakness and a somewhat stronger U.S. dollar, crude oil prices have continued to move lower," Harris said.

AAA predicts that the national average price will be $3.25 to $3.40 by Thanksgiving, and $3.10 to $3.30 by the end of the year.

To get the best mileage possible, AAA recommends that drivers inflate tires to the proper pressure, perform routine maintenance, make sure fluids are clean, and keep belts and hoses in good repair.

Motorists are urged not to speed when on the road, to conserve fuel and increase their chances for a safe trip.

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