Look for Gas Prices to Hit $4 a Gallon by Summer, If Not Sooner

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The priciest year ever for gasoline has just ended. In 2011, the average gallon sold for an all-time high of over $3.50, and the average household spent $4,155 gassing up their vehicles—also a record. And if you were hoping for relief at the pump in 2012, it looks like you’re out of luck.

At this time last year, the average gallon of gas sold for under $3.10. Prices never got cheaper than that, peaking at $3.96 in May, according to GasBuddy.

Right now, per AAA, the national average is about $3.32, or 22¢ more per gallon than a year ago at this time. If the price fluctuation patterns of 2012 follow the precedent set last year—and there’s good reason to believe they will—then drivers will easily be facing prices of over $4 for a gallon of regular, most likely by spring or summer.

(MORE: 2011 Is Priciest Year Ever for Gasoline: $3.53 Per Gallon, Over $4K Spent Per Household)

That’s the consensus among experts quoted everywhere from Florida to North Dakota. Seasonal demand patterns, as well as rising tension with Iran, and rising demand for oil in China and India, as well as the U.S., are some of the reasons given for why a sharp increase in prices at the pump is all but inevitable.

Gene LaDoucer, a spokesman for AAA North Dakota, told the Grand Forks Herald that it’s fairly standard for gas prices to spike 36% higher than the price on the first day of every year. Here’s what that’d mean in North Dakota:

“A 36-percent increase from where we are now would put prices in the neighborhood of $4.42,” LaDoucer said. “We certainly hope that’s not the case.”

(MORE: The 5 Items That Will Get Cheaper in 2012 (And 5 That Will Get More Expensive))

For the year ahead as a whole, the experts at GasBuddy anticipate that the average price of a gallon in 2012 will surpass that of 2011. That’d mean that 2012 would be the priciest year ever for gas.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.