South Carolina

Gas prices are lowest SC has seen in years. What happened, how long will it last?

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For the past few weeks, going to the pump has been pretty sweet for everybody in the Carolinas.

Across much of North and South Carolina, the current average price is the cheapest it’s been in three years, according to a AAA news release. South Carolina’s average price per gallon is $1.92, and trends indicate that prices will likely remain low for at least the first half of the month. In North Carolina, average prices are at $2.13.

South Carolina’s average is down four cents from last week, 19 cents from the previous month, and 32 cents from last year, according to the release. But just how much longer can we enjoy these low prices and why are they low now?

From political influences to the simple game of retailer competition, these are the reasons why gas stations are helping your wallet.

Taxes (or lack thereof)

If you cross the border between South Carolina and Georgia, or even North and South Carolina, on a constant basis, you may have noticed South Carolina usually has cheaper prices.

The state consistently ranks as one of the cheapest states at the pump. You can thank S.C. lawmakers for that.

For over three decades, South Carolina refused to increase the state gas tax. It wasn’t until 2017 that lawmakers passed a roads bill that took effect July 1 of that year.

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The measure increased the state’s gas tax by 12 cents over six years, meaning South Carolina’s gas taxes will rise by 2 cents each year.

There were several upsides to the state’s refusal to increase the tax for the everyday S.C. resident, mainly lower prices. But the biggest drawback was a lack of money for road repairs and construction, which was what compelled lawmakers to make the change.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation now expected to have roughly $149 million to improve the state’s roads and infrastructure last year.

Here’s one more thing to keep in mind: When you file your taxes, don’t forget the tax form I-385. Make sure to keep all your gas receipts and you could save yourself a bit of cash at the end of the year.

Some S.C. cities are just too popular

Sadly, the low prices drivers have seen in the past few weeks are about as good as they’ll get.

For example, Hilton Head is a “year-round” destination, said AAA Carolina’s spokesperson Tiffany Wright, which means the demand for gas will always be high, no matter the season.

The Harbour Town marina and lighthouse on Dec. 5, 2018. Katherine Kokal, The Island Packet.

An abundance of vacation homes on Hilton Head means people return to the island throughout the year, making it a place where people simply want to gas up fast.

Hilton Head’s popularity is, of course, mostly a good thing, said Wright, but that popularity is a big reason why it has one of the highest gas prices in the state.

In Myrtle Beach, another resort destination, the tourism season ebbs and flows, Wright said.

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Myrtle Beach has more of a concentrated time frame for tourists, said Wright. The busiest time for Myrtle Beach is usually from June to August, but Memorial Day Weekend can also be very hectic.

Gas station competition

A few weeks ago, a member of a Hilton Head and Bluffton-area Facebook group posted a photo of two gas stations — both Parker’s — that had drastically different prices.

While one station had the cheapest gas at $1.99 per gallon, the other, just down the road, sold gas at $2.34.

The differing prices in one location can be attributed to the simple game of competition, even among gas stations within the same franchise, said Wright.

“Especially with prices so low right now, gas stations are competing to get your attention and get you inside,” she said.

Drivers need to pay extra attention to who has the cheapest gas at stations closer to heavily trafficked areas, she added. Drivers also will likely see higher prices at gas stations just off highways because retailers know drivers may be desperate for gas.

Pro tip: websites and apps like GasBuddy, Google Maps and Waze allow drivers to double-check which stations have the cheapest gas before making their decision where to fill-up.

How long will low prices last?

Nobody really knows, so drivers should enjoy the lower gas prices while they can, said Wright.

GasBuddy’s 2019 fuel price outlook said that, while the beginning of the year looks great, prices are likely to rise around springtime.

According to GasBuddy, gas prices could spike around May and the national gas price average could rise back up to $3 per gallon.

Politics also play into gas price trends, according to the GasBuddy report.

Government policies could drive up prices or lower them, and even a statement from President Donald Trump could shift the market dramatically, the GasBuddy report added.

“In some respects, putting an accurate forecast together for fuel prices in 2019 feels like playing darts blind and hoping for a bullseye,” said the head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, Patrick DeHaan. “2019 represents one of the most difficult to predict fuel outlooks in my career.”