California Gas Prices Turn Drivers Into Calculated Strategists

04/13/2011 12:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2011

WEST COVINA, Calif. -- The number 7 had fallen off the sign at the Mobil station just off the San Bernardino Freeway, so it almost looked as if a gallon of gas was just $4.05, a bargain here these days. But sure enough, the correct price was on the pump a few feet away: $4.75.

"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.


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