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Despite Increases, First-Quarter Gas Prices Cheapest in a Dozen Years

img1010874087 1460079210607 jpeg Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

CARS.COM —  Anyone who longs for the good old days when gas was much cheaper — such as two months ago — needs to look at recent history to see how relatively inexpensive it still is to fill their tank today. The national average for regular gas was $1.87 during the first quarter, the lowest since 2004, according to GasBuddy.com, thanks in large part to oil prices that were the lowest since 2003.

Related: Gas Drives Cost of Owning Car to Six-Year Low

In addition, the national average for regular gas rose only 6.5 cents a gallon in the first quarter, the smallest increase in GasBuddy’s records, which date back to 2002. The biggest first-quarter increase was in 2012, when the average for regular gas jumped 65 cents a gallon.

AAA noted that gas prices in the first week of April were the lowest for this time of year since 2009. In the first three months of 2012, the national average for regular was $3.58 — the highest ever. AAA estimated that in comparison this year’s lower prices work out to an annual savings of $240 for each licensed driver.

The national average for regular gas was $2.04 a gallon on Thursday, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report; that’s 34 cents higher than eight weeks ago, when pump prices had nearly bottomed out. After steady increases during March, the national average fell 2 cents the past week, though some states continued to see higher prices.

Pump prices are likely to rise over the next several weeks because of the annual change to summer gas blends that are more expensive to produce, spring refinery maintenance and greater demand as motorists drive more in warmer weather. The impact, though, may not be as great as in most years.

A recent rally in the price of oil has lost some steam. U.S. oil was trading near $38 a barrel early Thursday, down more than $5 since late March. In addition, two major oil-producing countries, Russia and Iran, increased output last month, adding to an already abundant global supply.

“Although prices are expected to move higher leading into the summer driving season, consumers will likely continue to benefit from comparative savings due to the overall abundance of supply and the lower price for crude oil,” AAA said in a statement.

If the supply of oil remains high and the price low, GasBuddy said motorists can expect lower prices this summer, after seasonal refinery maintenance and the change to summer gas are complete around early June. GasBuddy predicts prices could reach their lowest summer level in more than a decade.

Oklahoma had the lowest statewide average for regular gas as of Thursday, at $1.80 a gallon, according to AAA. Missouri averaged $1.83, and Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina were at $1.84. The highest prices were in California, where regular averaged $2.78; Hawaii, $2.60; and Nevada, $2.45.

National averages for premium gas and diesel fuel were unchanged from a week ago at $2.52 and $2.10, respectively. Compared with a year ago, premium is 28 cents cheaper, diesel is 70 cents cheaper and regular is 34 cents cheaper.

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