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Are you paying too much for gas in Whatcom County?

Motorists pump gas at the Safeway station in Sunset Square in Bellingham on Friday, June 24. Gas stations at grocery stores often have better prices to help lure people to the station and the store, according to Gas Buddy analysts.
Motorists pump gas at the Safeway station in Sunset Square in Bellingham on Friday, June 24. Gas stations at grocery stores often have better prices to help lure people to the station and the store, according to Gas Buddy analysts. eabell@bhamherald.com

When it comes to filling up the gas tank, drivers have a greater chance of overpaying in Whatcom County than in most other parts of the U.S.

But there also is a better chance of scoring a deal.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by GasBuddy.com, which looked at the largest gas price spreads among 456 metro areas. The Bellingham metro area ranked 37th highest in the nation, with gas prices varying 58 cents a gallon between the most expensive and least expensive at local gas stations from the beginning of 2016 through May 31.

If you’re filling up in Seattle, the price gap can be worse. Seattle ranked 15th highest on GasBuddy’s list, with a spread of 71 cents.

And if you’re vacationing in California, watch out. It turns out eight of the top 10 metro areas are in California. Topping the list was Hanford, Calif., with a price spread of $1.26 a gallon.

Small communities in the Midwest dominate the bottom of the list, with the metro area of Alexander, Ill., the only one with a zero-cent price spread.

Analysts at GasBuddy found some interesting trends on why there are big differences in the U.S. The communities with the biggest price spreads tend to be ones that are near freeways or are home to big-box stores that have gas stations, said Allison Mac, the group’s West Coast petroleum analyst. People going on road trips tend to stick to major routes and will stop off at gas stations close to the freeway, allowing those stations to charge more, Mac said.

“They are paying for the convenience of quickly getting off and back on the freeway,” Mac said.

$348 Amount drivers would save a year by fueling up at the least expensive Whatcom County gas stations compared to the most-expensive stations, according to GasBuddy.

Areas that have big-box stores and major supermarkets with gas stations usually have a bigger price spread for competitive reasons. Major stores will try to keep prices down at the gas stations as a way to entice drivers running errands to be near that specific store. If that driver fueling up needs to do some shopping, the products inside the store can have higher profit margins than the gas, she said.

With that relatively large price spread, Whatcom County drivers have an opportunity to save money, Mac said. If Whatcom drivers using 50 gallons a month fill up at the stations with the least-expensive gas, they would save $348 a year over going to the most-expensive station.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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