Gas prices rev to $1.81 here |

Gas prices rev to $1.81 here

Take the golf clubs out of your trunk and put air in your tires to take the sting out of your next gas fill-up.

That’s the advice from AAA of Northern California’s Sean Comey to improve gas mileage in the face of gas prices that he describes as rising “quickly and dramatically.”

A labor strike in Venezuela as well as speculation about a war with Iraq has driven up the price of a barrel of crude oil to more than $30 a barrel.

A month ago a gallon of unleaded gasoline cost $1.66 on average in California; on Friday the cost was $1.84 a gallon. A year ago, the cost was $1.29.

In a survey of nine gas stations in Nevada City and Grass Valley Friday, the average price was $1.81.

Prices generally rise around March, when demand for fuel increases along with the high driving season, Sean Comey, spokesman for the AAA of Northern California.

San Francisco heads the list as most the expensive place to buy gas in California. On Feb. 11, the average cost of a gallon of unleaded gas was $1.95, compared to $1.60 in Las Vegas on the same day.

“Gas stations get a lot of the blame when gas prices go up five and ten cents a gallon, but there are a lot of taxes,” Comey said. In fact, 30 percent of the $1.39-per-gallon cost of unleaded gas in December 2002 went for taxes, according to the Energy Information Administration in the Department of Energy.

Forty-six percent of the $1.39-per-gallon cost of unleaded gas was for crude oil, 12 percent was for distribution and marketing, and 12 percent for refining, according to the DOE.

Local service station managers shied away from answering questions about how they price gasoline at their stations and refer reporters to corporate headquarters.

A manager of a local 76 station wrote out a phone number for a corporate office, where spokeswoman Julie Igo said, “We really defer to industry associations to speak on behalf of the industry.”

Juan Palomo, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said his association “is not allowed to keep track of how all the organizations set prices for a gallon of gas.”

“It varies for the simple reason that each station is individually owned and, even though they have the same brand of gas, they are owned by different people who use different methods to decide how much to charge and to survive and to make a decent return on investment,” Palomo said.

Land prices vary so much from neighborhood to neighborhood, he noted. For instance, a gas station on San Francisco’s Nob Hill would have higher prices than one in Gilroy.

Comey urged drivers to shop aggressively and to remember that only about 10 percent of cars need premium gasoline.

“It’ll say in the owner’s manual or on the fuel cap if your car needs premium,” Comey said.

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