The most expensive year ever for gasoline purchases in the U.S. is heading to a close, but not without one last snatch at motorists' wallets. Pain levels at the pump are rising again in California and across the rest of the nation, assuring that 2011 will mark the second year in a row that prices have posted record December highs.
The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California on Tuesday is $3.562, up 2.2 cents since last week, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That was enough to shatter the old record for Dec. 27 of $3.301, set last year. Previous to that, the worst that Californians had seen on this day was $3.266 a gallon in 2007.
Nationally, the numbers tell the same story. The U.S. average for a gallon of regular gasoline Tuesday is $3.231, up 1.8 cents since last week. That broke the old record set last year, which was an average of $3.042 a gallon. Before that, the highest U.S. average for this day was $2.981 in 2007.
But Americans aren't complaining as much as they did in 2008 when prices peaked at $4.588 a gallon in California and at $4.114 nationally, said Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the AAA of Southern California.
"Holiday travel is still pretty good," Montgomery said. "People still want to reconnect with family and distant friends, go home. That's a pretty resilient thing."
Montgomery added, however, that motorists said that they would only drive about 700 miles for the end of the year holidays or nearly 300 miles less than last year.
-- Ronald D. White
Photo: Michael Reed fills his tank at a service station in Charlotte, N.C. Gasoline prices are at record late-December highs. Credit: Chuck Burton / Associated Press