June 19, 2024

In California, Strategy as Tough as Traffic

“I only stopped here because I’m running on empty,” said Maura Trejo, a real estate agent. “You’d have to be pretty silly to fill up here. What a waste of money.”

It was substantially better but still pricey across the street. Shell was selling regular for $4.23 a gallon. One more mile east, it was $4.31 a gallon.

Even when gasoline is not near its peak, California almost always has the highest average gas prices in the continental United States, owing to a combination of high state and local taxes and stringent state fuel regulations. This forces Californians to be more calculating than drivers in other states about where to buy, how to track down cheaper options and whether to spread the word about a particularly cheap station.

Certainly, anyone who spends time shuttling around Southern California’s inland suburbs, where the round-trip commute to Los Angeles can be 100 miles a day, knows that buying gas from a station off any freeway is an express lane to pauperdom.

“It’s always worse here,” said Yolanda Buller, who commutes into Los Angeles, where she works as a hospital receptionist.

Those who don’t like to hide a good discovery love to boast about an off-the-beaten-path pump with the cheapest prices. There are those who debate that approach; how much can one really save by driving several miles out of the way (“In traffic?,” they’ll ask incredulously) just to save a couple of bucks?

But they have no choice when they forget to fill up in the morning. So they pull out their crumply dollars and put in only what they need to get down the road.

Dozens of California cities top the list of the current highest prices in the nation, as measured by the Web site gasbuddy.com. Santa Barbara always has relatively expensive gas, as do several cities in the Central Valley. In Santa Monica, one station was charging a whopping $5.69 for premium full-serve gas, making the $4.69 for regular self-serve seem like a relative bargain.

It’s enough to turn even the most generous car-pooler into a bit of a cheapskate.

Jacque Jones, a 33-year-old musician, agreed to drive his friend from Diamond Bar to Los Angeles, about 30 miles. Every time he fills up his Ponitac Aztek these days it costs at least $60. So this time he made his friend fork over $5. These days, he said, “I’ve got to take all I can get.”

He gave his friend a look of mock embarrassment before adding: “Man, this thing don’t drive itself for free.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=749db7ca6b226012a879af0a2b7ed2cd

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