NEW YORK As consumers began hitting the road Friday for the Memorial Day weekend, they faced the sobering reality that it now costs $87 to fill a Ford Explorer SUV, up $14 from last year, and $72 to fill a mid-size Honda Accord, up $12.
That's because gas prices, which took another jump higher overnight, are up nearly 20 percent, or 65 cents a gallon, over the past year to average nearly $3.88 a gallon nationally. But unlike this time last year, when gas prices were at their peak for 2007, pump prices now show no signs of halting their daily assault on the record books.
"Four dollars (a gallon) is a done deal now," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Ill. "We could go significantly above that."
The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Utah rose to $3.78, 4.5 cents more than the average price Thursday, according to AAA.
Drivers in Alaska, Connecticut, California, New York and Illinois are already paying more than $4 for gas, and an increasing number of stations around the country are posting prices higher than $4. In Alaska where the average price of regular gas stood at a national high of $4.181 Friday it now costs $94 to fill an Explorer, and $77 to fill an Accord.
Nationally, the price of a gallon of regular gas rose 4.4 cents overnight to a record average of $3.875, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Prices are headed even higher in coming days because of oil's dramatic rally this week to a new record over $135 a barrel.
Oil prices fluctuated Friday after as investors placed bets before the long holiday weekend. Light, sweet crude for July delivery rose $1.38 to settle at $132.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after alternating between gains and losses.
Supporting prices was the dollar, which weakened against the euro and attracted more investment money to energy futures. A growing number of investors have come to view commodities such as oil as a hedge against inflation and a falling dollar. Also, a weaker greenback makes oil futures less expensive to investors dealing in other currencies. Many analysts see the dollar's protracted decline as one of the chief reasons oil prices have doubled over the past year.
Diesel prices in the U.S. rose 5.9 cents to a record national average of $4.649 Friday, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Diesel's rise has been far more dramatic than gasoline's. Diesel prices are $1.73 a gallon higher than one year ago.
Diesel is used to fuel most industrial vehicles, and is a big part of the reason prices for food and consumer goods are rising.