Predicting the Pump: How Much Will We Be Paying for Gas in 2018?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Fueling prices and average economy aren’t exactly the sexiest of automotive topics, but they are the two that will probably influence your life the most directly in the coming year. Expensive gas thrusted countless Americans into economy cars during the early 1980s and 2000s, so any advanced warning would be useful to those considering a new vehicle this year.

Last month, crude prices surpassed $60 per barrel after weekly American output dipped and stockpiles fell. That’s the highest they’ve been in over two-years and, with OPEC cutting production and China hungrier for the black stuff than ever before, prices aren’t expected to drop anytime soon. Does that mean you should nix purchasing that big sport utility vehicle you’ve been eyeballing and option the greener alternative?

Not necessarily and, if you do, you’ll certainly be in the minority. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, which tracks average fuel economy, noted that new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. in December lost 0.2 mpg from November — resulting in a leaner 25.0 mpg mean.

Despite manufacturers improving fleet-wide efficiency for years, consumer preference has left average economy hovering around the low 25 mpg range since 2014. With car deliveries down 17 percent against last year, sales of less gas-friendly options like crossovers and trucks have grown.

Of course that could change if there were a sudden surge in fuel prices. Gas prices are up slightly from last year, by about $0.12. GasBuddy’s fuel price outlook for 2018 is also anticipating the United States is about to spend $25.4 billion more on fuel in 2018 than it did in 2017.

Fortunately, that translates to a fairly modest increase per household. If you didn’t notice gasoline prices creeping up in 2017 then the odds are good you won’t notice them in 2018. The projected average for the entire year is expected to be around $2.57 per gallon (with diesel at $2.70 a gallon). Obviously, the final sum will ultimately depend upon where you pump. But even those that choose to reside in California, where gas is always a bit pricier, should be safe from four-dollar fuel this year.

Keep in mind that this is all speculative. The refinery responsible for your region may encounter an unprecedented disaster or Texas could get hit buy another queue of hurricanes — forcing an extended shutdown and creating a temporary gas shortage.

However, 2018 looks to be on track for a relatively modest increase in fuel prices that shouldn’t deter anyone from wanting to lease an utter gas-hog. But buying may be slightly less advisable. Let’s not forget that the International Energy Agency predicted a 75-percent increase in oil prices by 2020 and expects it to skyrocket from there as global demand increases. The good news is that it revised its short term outlook, meaning 2018 could be a little easier on the wallet with fewer ugly surprises. Although that doesn’t mean subsequent years will be nearly as kind.

While it may not spell-out disaster, especially if the world energy outlook follows all of those green initiatives governments are so keen on and electric vehicles become the dominant mode of transport (powered by nuclear or renewable energies), there remains the real probability that fuel prices will progress in an upward trajectory over the next two decades. We’d advise shopping for the vehicle you want and then considering what your gas-budget might look like a few years down the line.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Kenwood Kenwood on Jan 08, 2018

    Are you kidding? It's going to be "Drill baby, drill!" for the next 3 years (hopefully 7). The so called experts have only been experts at getting things wrong. Remember how the markets were supposed to crash last year? This administration is rolling back regulations like a mo' fo' and many opportunities for drilling are opening and re-opening. Oil will be flowing like booze like the day after prohibition. Gas will once again be cheap and plentiful. (Thanks Trump)

  • Gasser Gasser on Jan 08, 2018

    Yesterday at Costco in Los Angeles: regular $2.95/gal and super at $3.15/gal. My guess is $.50 more per gallon by year end, UNLESS we have one of our frequent refinery outages (due to "fire", "maintenance", "refurbishing" or "labor issues") This will raise gas $1 per gallon. Enjoy the golden age of cheap gas and 500 hp while we can.

  • Wolfwagen Pennsylvania - Two long straights, 1 medium straight, 1 super short straight and a bunch of curves all on one end
  • Haze3 EV median weight is in the range of 4500-5500lbs, similar to the low end of full size pickup trucks and SUV's or typical mid-size PU's and SUV's. Obviously, EV Hummers and PU's are heavier but, on average, EV=PU or mid/full SUV is about right. EV's currently account for ~1% of the cars on the road. PU's account for 17% and SUV's count for over 40%. If we take out light SUV's, then call it 30% SUV or so. So, large-ish PU's and SUV's, together, account for ~50% of the US fleet vs 1% for EV's. As such, the fleet is ALREADY heavy. The problem is that EV's will be making the currently lighter 50% heavier, not that PU/SUV haven't already done most of the damage on avg mass.Sure, the issue is real but EV responsibility is not. If you want to get after heavies, that means getting after PU/SUV's (the current problem by 40-50x) first and foremost.
  • Redapple2 Telluride over Acadian (sic-tip cap-canada). 1 better car. 2 60 % us/can content vs 39 THIRTY NINE for an "American" car. 3 no UAW labor. Smart people drive Tellurides. Not so smart for the GMC. Dont support the Evil GM Vampire.!
  • Theflyersfan My dad had a 1998 C280 that was rock solid reliable until around 80,000 miles and then it wasn't. Corey might develop a slight right eyelid twitch right about now, but it started with a sunroof that leaked. And the water likely damaged some electric components because soon after the leaks developed, the sunroof stopped working. And then the electrical gremlins took hold. Displays that flickered at times, lights that sometimes decided illumination was for wimps so stayed home, and then the single wiper issue. That thing decided to eat motors. He loved that car but knew when to fold the hand. So he bought a lightly used, off lease E-class. Had that for less than two years before he was ready to leave it in South Philly, keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, and a "Take it please" sign on the windshield. He won't touch another Benz now.
  • Detlump A lot of people buy SUVs because they're easier to get in and out of. After decades of longer, lower, wider it was refreshing to have easier ingress/egress offered by an SUV.Ironically, the ease of getting in and out of my Highlander is very similar to my 56 Cadillac.