To make the 70-mile round-trip drive to work at Mueller in Chattanooga from his home in Higdon, Ala., Marty Higdon fills up the 8-gallon tank on his Chevrolet Metro every four days.
A year ago, Higdon was spending more than $20 a week on gas. But with fuel prices down 39 percent from last fall, Higdon topped off Monday in Lookout Valley for only $11.
"It's put another $10 or so a week in my pocket and that's great for workers like me," he said.
Gas prices fell another 3.1 cents per gallon in Chattanooga last week to an average of $1.90 per gallon, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 170 gas outlets in Chattanooga released Monday. Chattanooga gas prices dipped to a similar low at the start of the year and fell even lower briefly during the depths of the recession in 2008. But experts expect that gas prices below $2 a gallon should last longer this fall.
"The big difference this autumn is that we're probably going to see gas stay below $2 a gallon in places like Chattanooga for some time, probably for the rest of the year and maybe into early 2016," said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst. "It depends, of course, on what happens in the oil markets that have been volatile in the past couple of weeks. But there continues to be downward pressure on oil prices, which in turn will continue to weigh on the nation's average gasoline price."
The average price of a gallon of gas in Chattanooga at the start of the week was nearly $1.20 cheaper than on the same date a year ago. Chattanooga gas prices, on average, also remained 43 cents per gallon below the U.S. average on Sunday, GasBuddy said.
"I travel all over the Southeast, and this area seems to have some of the lowest prices in the whole region," said Chuck Moon, an Atlanta-based salesman of automotive shredders who travels more than 60,000 miles a year in his car. "I'm spending $100 a week less on gas than I was a year ago, and the lower prices have turned my mileage checks from breaking even to making a little extra money for me now."
Moon filled up his Lincoln LS with gas priced just $1.76 a gallon on Monday at the Lookout Valley Kangaroo station.
According to GasBuddy, gas prices dipped to an average low of $1.44 in Chattanooga in November 2008 before heading higher again. DeHaan said falling oil prices could cut gas prices still lower, although it is far from certain that the 2008 lows will be reached again.
But with improved fuel efficiency in today's vehicles, most motorists are still enjoying some of the lowest inflation-adjusted prices for gasoline during their lifetimes.
Even the seemingly bargain prices of 31 cents a gallon for gasoline that motorists paid in 1960 were actually more than double today's prices, when adjusted for inflation and fuel efficiency of the average car. The 31 cents per gallon paid by motorists in 1960, per mile traveled, would be equal today to paying $4.42 per gallon for gas.
In 1960, the average passenger car got 14.3 miles per gallon, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Today, the average passenger car gets 25.3 miles per gallon, according to the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.
When adjusted for inflation, gasoline is now cheaper than it was when "Star Wars" first hit movie theaters nearly four decades ago. In May 1997, the national average price for a gallon of gasoline was 66 cents a gallon; adjusted for inflation, that's the equivalent of about $2.59 today.
History has proven gas prices generally fall after Labor Day, the traditional end of the summer vacation season. AAA, which also tracks gas prices, projects gasoline prices will fall below $2 a gallon in much of America. AAA's fuel gauge survey said Chattanooga's average price of regular gas on Monday — just below $1.90 per gallon — was 26 cents cheaper than a month earlier and 43 cents below the national average price.
Gas could head even lower if one oil forecast by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. proves accurate. Goldman said in a report Friday that oil prices could drop as low as $20 a barrel under some scenarios of falling demand and continued global oil surpluses.
Crude oil prices closed Monday at $44.08 per barrel, down 52 cents per barrel, in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Cheaper oil is projected to cut diesel fuel prices this year enough to save the trucking industry $42 billion on its yearly fuel bill, according to estimates made last month by the American Trucking Associations. ATA estimates the industry will spend about $105 billion on diesel fuel by the end of 2015, down from the $147 billion spent by the industry in 2014.
Lower petroleum prices have hurt oil producing states, but as an oil-import state Tennessee is benefiting by the drop in fuel prices.
"Consumer spending has been bolstered by solid employment gains and low gas prices," University of Tennessee Economist Matt Murray said Monday in the state's semi-annual economic report. "As a result, automobile sales have picked up, and in particular light truck sales have been doing relatively well."
Higdon says he is enjoying the lower prices and hope they last.
"These prices help out a lot," he said.
Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or at 757-6340.