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Travel

Lower gas prices appear to be driving Americans to hit the road this summer

Gas tips for the road
Tips to save at the pump when taking a road trip.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

It doesn’t matter if you’re the type of person who views your gas tank as half-full or half-empty, we all like to save at the pump.

“We all swap stories about where to find the best gas,” said Amy Graham, president of the California WIT club, made up of owners of Winnebago Industries motor homes. 

Right now, those stories are mostly happy ones. Gas prices in California last week were $2.89 a gallon. A year ago, a gallon cost $3.49, AAA’s Fuel Gauge reports. A decade ago, you paid $3.16 a gallon, according to California’s Energy Almanac.

Road trips: where to go and what to know

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California still pays more than the national average, where the average cost nationally for a gallon was $2.32 last week. That’s still better than the same time last year, when it was $2.80 a gallon, according to figures from AAA’s Fuel Gauge report. 

The lower prices have inspired people to take road trips this summer. In fact, 55% of Americans nationwide said they were more likely to drive at least 50 miles for a vacation this year compared with last year, according tothe Auto Club.

Even with lower prices at the pump, saving where you can stretches your vacation dollar, especially for people like the Grahams, who get six to eight mpg in their 2007 Winnebago Voyage.

 “We’re retired on fixed incomes, so sometimes we have to park the rig if gas prices are too high,” said Graham, 69, of Sacramento. She and her husband, Bob, have been living and traveling in their RV since they retired 14 years ago.

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When interviewed, the Grahams had driven to Grants Pass, Ore., and were planning to spend the summer visiting family in the Pacific Northwest

“The gas prices here in Oregon are a lot better than they were in L.A.,” Amy Graham said.

This summer some regions could expect fuel to cost at least 40 cents more per gallon than the nationwide average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s likely to include California, which last year had a $1-per-gallon premium, caused partly by the yearlong closure of an Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance after an explosion. The plant went back online in May.

“We have lower prices, but we’re never going to be the same price as the rest of the United States,” said Gordon Schremp, a senior fuel specialist with the California Energy Commission.

That’s because it costs more to make the cleaner fuel that is sold in California, and taxes and fees are higher too.

Still, there are ways to save at the pump, no matter where you’re driving

“People should definitely shop around,” Schremp said.

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Gas apps can help with the hunt. The Grahams use GasBuddy, which additionally tells them which gas stations are accessible for motor homes.

They also fill up at Costco or use the Good Sam Club Swipe & Save membership card at Pilot Flying J gas stations, Amy Graham said.

There’s no reason not to get gas at a discount station, Schremp said, unless you’re interested in something besides gas, such as better lighting, cleaner restrooms or a certain type of gasoline additive.

“There were some differences in quality prior to ’95,” Schremp said.  “Now the gasoline is pretty much the same quality no matter where you shop.”

Other tips for saving at the pump:

 — Weigh the options between cash and credit. Some gas stations offer a discount for cash or a branded gift card. Some credit cards offer rebates on gasoline purchases. 

—  Get gas gift cards for less than face value from sites such as GiftCardGranny.

 —  Save with loyalty programs, such as those offered by gas retailers or supermarket chains that also offer fuel.

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  —  Maximize fuel economy by keeping tires properly inflated, driving slower than 75 mph, avoiding aggressive driving, closing the car windows, even if it means running the air conditioner, and keeping your load light, said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.

That advice you might hear about filling up midweek because prices spike on the weekend? It’s not true.

“When you look at prices every day you don’t see a weekend bump,” Schremp said. 

There is, however, usually an increase in June, July and August, partly because California requires a special blend of gas that helps vehicles run c more cleanly in hot summer temperatures.

Even so, the Grahams say that among RVers, it’s still going to be a fun summer. “Two or three years ago, nobody was traveling,”  Graham said. “They’re traveling this year.”

travel@latimes.com

Have an incredible road trip story or a useful tip? Share your memories and suggestions with us in the comments.


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