With gas prices headed toward a record high, many Americans are struggling to afford to stay on the road. It's easy to scapegoat inflation or the Russia-Ukraine conflict for higher prices, but that's only part of the story.
We can at least partially blame today's higher prices at the pump on a couple of more mundane things that happen every year: The federally mandated switchover from winter to summer fuel blends, and the rising demand for gas as temperatures start to warm.
Seasonal differences and government regulations dictate what goes into the fuel we use. Gas is more likely to evaporate from your vehicle quickly during warmer weather, increasing both emissions and smog. Because of this, refiners alter the blend for warmer months, creating a higher-grade fuel. But it's pricier than the winter fuel blend that ignites and evaporates easier.
Combine the fuel-blend switch with the rising demand for gasoline as spring kicks in, since people tend to travel more, and you get a predictable spring trend of rising gas prices. GasBuddy says that over the past 10 years, gas prices have risen between 25 cents and a steeper 75 cents a gallon starting in February or March through Memorial Day.
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That said, gas prices are reacting to world events, too. Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, said higher prices are also "the cost of choking off Russia from energy revenue. As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues to evolve and we head into a season where gas prices typically increase, Americans should prepare to pay more for gas than they ever have before.”
GasBuddy's fuel outlook for 2022, completed earlier this year, predicted that prices would jump to a range of $3.70 to $4.24 in March, $3.84 to $4.38 in April, and a peak of $3.98 to $4.51 in May. Unfortunately, the national average could go much higher in coming weeks, De Haan says, thanks to the Ukraine invasion, with prices closer to an average of $4.50 a gallon.