2013 Gas Price Forecast: Around $4 Per Gallon by Spring

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Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

A man pumps gas at a Chevron gas station in San Francisco, in this Aug. 7, 2012 file photo. The average price of regular gasoline jumped in California from $3.86 a gallon on Tuesday to $3.94 on Thursday, according to the website GasBuddy.com.

The current national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.30. Drivers shouldn’t expect prices to get cheaper at any point in 2013.

That’s according to the analysts at GasBuddy, who have just released a forecast for gas prices throughout 2013, which include month-by-month projections. The predictions call for an average price of $3.29 throughout January, followed by a gradual run-up to the year’s highest prices come springtime. Prices are expected to retreat in fall and early winter, though the lows reached in December 2012—average of $3.25 per gallon nationwide—aren’t likely to be repeated.

For the most part, however, GasBuddy’s forecast calls for a repeat of trends seen in 2012, which was the most expensive year ever for gas, and which in turn was a followup to the record-setting gas prices of 2011. Gas prices around the country reached the high point for 2012 in the springtime, when the average gallon sold for nearly $4.

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In 2013, drivers can again expect gas prices to spike in the springtime, according to GasBuddy, and an average of $3.95 per gallon expected in April and $3.85 forecast for May. The GasBuddy release explains why this period is subject to annual prices hikes:

Refineries begin producing cleaner burning summer gasoline and perform maintenance. Problems typically arise from plant restarts and low supply of mandated blends until maintenance season is over, usually in mid/late May.

Seasonal forces will surely have an impact on prices at the pump. They do so every year. But how much weight should we give GasBuddy’s month-by-month projections? If we learned anything about gas prices in 2012, it was that they sometimes rise during periods they normally fall, and that the folks in the business of predicting what gas prices will do are sometimes wildly off the mark. In order to hedge its predictions, the GasBuddy forecast is cluttered with the word “may.” As in: “Americans may still face rising gasoline prices in 2013 …”

So it’s unwise to wholly trust predictions concerning the price of gas in a given month. Who, after all, can foresee when a series of refinery pipes will burst? Or what global economic forces will cause a sharp spike or decline in demand—and prices—for gas? In theory at least, longer-term projections about, say, average gas prices for the entire year ahead should be a bit more trustworthy.

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And for 2013 as a whole, the analysts at GasBuddy and elsewhere are predicting that American drivers should be paying at least a little less for gas than they did in 2012. We’re already off to a good start compared to last year: The current average of $3.30 is 7¢ less than it was at this time in 2012. USA Today and the Wall Street Journal cite the auto club AAA as expecting gas prices to be lower overall in 2013 thanks at least partly due to increased crude-oil production at home.

That may be reason enough for drivers to celebrate. “A good year for many of us will simply mean the absence of new record high gasoline prices,” said GasBuddy analyst Gregg Laskoski.