If you’re packing up the kids and heading off in the Suburban for a driving vacation this summer, be prepared to shell out some serious money at the gas pump. It’ll cost you more than $100 to fill up the tank.
Maybe you hadn’t noticed until now, but gasoline prices have been gradually climbing over the past year. Now it’s impossible not to notice: every day prices are surging higher. The average price of regular gasoline was $3.37 a gallon on Monday, Feb. 28, up 20 cents from last week, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report. A year ago, the price was $2.70 per gallon.
Violence in the Middle East is the biggest culprit, driving up the price of crude oil to about $97 a barrel on Monday. Some economists predict $100-a-barrel oil is here to stay.
For motorists, that could make the summer of 2011 as painful as 2008, when regular gas peaked at $4.11 a gallon. Nobody could afford to drive their SUVs any more, and sales of small, fuel-efficient cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla skyrocketed. Of course, once gas prices dropped back, motorists went rushing back to their big trucks again.
You’d better start thinking now about which vehicle you’ll take on that road trip. At Monday’s price of $3.37 per gallon, it already costs you $106.16 to fill up that Chevrolet Suburban, assuming you have the more fuel-efficient 1500 model, which comes with a 5.3-liter V8 engine and 31.5-gallon fuel tank. It gets 17 miles per gallon, which means you’ll be filling up every 535 miles. A trip from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park and back will cost you about $463 in fuel. If gas hits $4 a gallon by summer, you can expect to shell out $126 each time you fill up. That’s about the same price you’ll pay to sleep at a Holiday Inn along the way.
If you’ve got the more powerful Suburban 2500, with the 6.0-liter engine, you’re going to pay even more. Not only is the gas mileage worse (12 mpg average) it’s got a larger fuel tank (39 gallons). At $3.37, each fill-up will cost you $131. If gas hits $4, you’ll be shelling out – gulp — $156 every time you fill the tank.
With $4 gas looking all but certain, Forbes set out to discover which vehicles will cause the most pain at the pump. It’s not just the price of fuel that affects the cost of your fill-up: your car’s EPA estimated fuel economy, the size of the fuel tank and the fuel grade also matter. Many luxury cars, for instance, typically require premium fuel, which is more expensive than regular (the national average for premium octane on Feb. 28 was $3.61 and climbing).
We consulted Edmunds.com’s monthly fuel cost database to find the cars that cost the most each month to keep fueled. It didn’t seem fair to include exotic supercars like the $1.7 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4, which accelerates from 0 to 60 mpg in just 2.6 seconds and gets less than 5 mpg at top speed (which, by the way is electronically limited to 253 miles per hour to avoid tire damage). People aren’t buying these for the fuel economy.
Once you toss out the Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and such, it’s no surprise that full-size SUVS are the biggest gas hogs. The Suburban and its General Motors cousin, the GMC Yukon XL, have plenty of company, though. Mercedes’ big G550 costs almost $92 every time you visit the gas station. It requires high-grade octane fuel. On a monthly basis, assuming you drive the typical 1,250 miles, you’ll spend about $347 for premium gas.
The Infiniti QX56 is another big luxury SUV that will cost you dearly at the pump. Based on Monday’s premium fuel prices, you’ll spend $101 every time you fill its big 28 gallon fuel tank, or about $321 per month.
Full-size vans – the 15-passenger kind used by airport shuttle companies and church groups — are just as bad when it comes to fuel costs. GM’s Chevy Express and its GMC Savana vans are the most expensive to keep fueled. At least they run on regular gas or even E85 ethanol (if you can find it). At Monday’s gas price of $3.37, a fill-up of those vans’ 31-gallon tank will cost $104. E85 is considerably cheaper — $2.84 as of Monday, but beware: you’ll go fewer miles on E85 because of its lower energy content per BTU. Adjusting for its lower efficiency, AAA says the cost of E85 is actually higher.
High-performance versions of popular luxury cars are also expensive to feed at the fuel station. BMW’s M5 is based on the German carmaker’s 5 Series sedan, but comes with a more powerful engine that gets 13 mpg combined city and highway (5 mpg worse than the 5-Series). Naturally, it demands premium fuel, too. Cost per fill-up today is $66.79.