You may pay more than ever for a late-summer drive.
U.S. drivers paid an average of $3.72 per gallon Monday. That's the highest price ever on this date, according to auto club AAA, a shade above the $3.717 average Aug. 20, 2008. A year ago, the average was $3.578.
More daily records are likely during the next few weeks. The national average could increase to $3.75 per gallon by Labor Day, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. By comparison, gas prices stayed below $3.70 in late August and early September in both 2008 and 2011.
Kloza and other analysts expect prices to start dropping after Labor Day, so drivers shouldn't have to worry about a return to the April high of $3.94 per gallon, barring a hurricane or other unforeseen event.
Higher gas prices aren't what the sluggish economy needs, since any extra money that goes to fill gas tanks doesn't get spent at movie theaters or restaurants.
Retail gasoline prices have risen nearly 12 percent since July 1 because of higher oil prices and problems with refineries and pipelines that created temporary supply shortages in some regions. An increase in the price of ethanol, which is blended into gasoline, was also a factor.
The pace of the increases has slowed considerably, however. Gas rose 19 cents in the two weeks ended Wednesday. It's up just 1 penny in the five days since. Gas costs about 26 cents more than a month ago and 14 cents more than a year ago, according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express.
Across the U.S., prices range from a low of $3.43 per gallon in South Carolina to $4.32 in Hawaii. Arizona, Mississippi and New Mexico also have average prices below $3.50 per gallon, while California and Illinois are up above the $4 mark.
A few drivers are catching a break. Kloza said gas prices are lower than this date in 2011 in four states -- Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. And drivers who recently purchased a new car can stretch a gallon a bit further. The average fuel economy of new light vehicles in the U.S. in July was 23.6 mpg, up from 20.5 mpg at the end of 2008.