Another Gas Price Roller Coaster: What to Do

By David Thomas  on February 24, 2012

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Gas prices in California shot up 6 cents overnight to $4.20 for a gallon of regular unleaded. That's the average for the state, according to AAA, and it's up an entire quarter from last week’s price of $3.95. The national average rose 3 cents overnight and 12 cents in a week to $3.64. The picture above was shot in Southern California early this morning by a Cars.com staffer.

Team this rapid rise to never-ending news reports about how prices are shooting up so dramatically, and you have drivers panicking once again about fuel efficiency and household costs.

Memories are short, though. Prices had been steadily declining nationwide since May 2011, when they hovered around the $4 mark. That followed — guess what? — a rapid surge in gas prices from February to March, when gas prices rose nearly 40 cents in a month. The difference this year is that the average price before the rapid rise is much higher, about 20 cents on average.

Despite the higher prices, drivers shouldn't panic.

While prices may hit $4 nationwide by the summer, there are ways to drive more efficiently. We developed a series of tips in 2008 when the national average first breached $4 a gallon. You can find them all below.

Car shoppers should not rush to trade in a gas guzzler for a high-mileage car just because of the high price at the pump. If you were already shopping for a new car, selecting a high-mileage vehicle is a good idea, but trading in a car before it makes financial sense won’t help your household budget.

There are also few deals on new, efficient models like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra or Toyota Prius.

Let's hope the past three years of roller coaster gas prices have hardened drivers to today's prices. Automakers have also upped their mileage during that time.

There are 18 2012 models with 40-mpg highway EPA figures that run on regular gas. That doesn't include eight other EVs and diesel models. In 2008, there were only three.

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Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David