Sure Enough, 2012 Will Go Down as Most Expensive Year Ever for Gas

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Naturally, drivers are happy that gas prices have rapidly retreated from all-time highs. They may not be quite as pleased when realizing that they’ve never paid more for gas than they did in 2012 as a whole.

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, the national average for a gallon of regular is $3.38, which is about 4¢ less that it was a week ago, 10¢ cheaper than a month ago, and roughly 50¢ lower than the 2012 high hit in early spring. Gas in California now averages $3.69, roughly a fully $1 cheaper than prices at the pump as recently as early October. Gas prices are also declining rapidly in states such as Michigan, where there was a 12¢ dip in the last week.

Compared to what drivers were used to paying to fill up not so long ago, prices at the pump now don’t seem so painful. And yet, everything’s relative. In Michigan, even after the 12¢ dip, drivers were paying 15¢ per gallon more than they were at the same time last year. The country as a whole is paying, on average, 10¢ more than we were exactly 12 months ago.

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And yes, for the year as a whole, drivers have been paying more for gasoline than ever before.

GasBuddy’s Patrick DeHaan wrote recently that the national average for year stood at $3.63. Considering that 2011 earned the title of Priciest Year Ever for Gas with an overall average of $3.51, “it’s all but guaranteed that 2012 will go down as the year with the highest average ever,” DeHaan said.

Gas prices are expected to keep dropping as 2012 comes to a close, perhaps reaching an average of as low as $3.25 by New Year’s. Even if that happens, 2012 would still beat out 2011 as the year with the highest-ever average prices. In order for the overall 2012 average to come in under the 2011 figure of $3.51, DeHaan explained that prices would have to drop to $2.35 or lower for the remainder of the year. That’s just not going to come close to happening.

Despite the likelihood that gas prices haven’t exactly been top of mind—at least not since SuperStorm Sandy caused huge lines at gas stations and a black market emerged with gallons going for $10 or more—we all sorta know that gas prices were a big deal this year. Indeed, “gas prices” was a top search term on Yahoo! and the topic made it into our Top 10 Business & Money stories for 2012.

(MORE: Top 10 Business & Money Stories of 2012)

Gas prices also factored in to small, fuel-efficient cars having a huge year in sales. Gas prices may be affecting end-of-year holiday spending as well. In polls like one conducted by Consumer Reports, half of respondents said that gas prices and the economy would have an impact on spending. By contrast, only 31% said their spending would be affected by the outcome of the presidential election.