Updated: Thursday, 03 May 2012, 10:07 PM CDT
Published : Wednesday, 02 May 2012, 2:09 PM CDT
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - We can decide when and where we fill up our tanks, but the price we pay for gasoline seems to be beyond our control. Even though we've seen prices drop during recent weeks, some say they're still too high, and they're almost always headed up.
"I come by here in the mornings to see how much it on my way to work, and before I can get back over here at lunch they've gone up," Winona McDonald said.
AAA, which tracks fuel prices all over the country , told FOX10 if you think you're being charged more than you should be, there's a good chance you are.
"Based on what we've seen gas sell for in years past compared to the price of crude oil, and you look at that now, the price of crude oil, and our pump prices, it certainly appears that our pump prices should be significantly less than they are. There's really no justification right now for pump prices to be this high," AAA spokesman Clay Ingram said.
So, why are prices so high? Who sets them, and where does the profit go?
FOX10 visited about 40 gas stations in our area in search of the answers.
"I'm trying to find gas station owners to talk to about gas prices," we inquired at a convenience store on Government Blvd.
"I wouldn't be a good person to talk to. Because I don't actually set the prices," the convenience store owner said.
"Ah, you can try around 4 o'clock. He's running late," was the response we received at a store on Three Notch Road.
"You want the owner, not the manager? He's in and out of town," was the answer we got on Navco Road.
"Are you the owner?" we asked a clerk at a gas station on Navco Road.
"No ma'am. He's suppose to be here 11 o'clock," the clerk said.
Ingram isn't surprised we didn't find anyone to talk to us.
"Depending on who owns it, that's who sets the prices every day. And, it's tricky. Nobody wants you to know who's calling the shots. They don't want to answer any questions about it," Ingram said.
Off camera, some owners told us they only make a few cents on the gallon. But, Ingram said while that used to be true, it's not anymore.
"The answer to that is they are free to charge whatever the market will bear. So, they're not regulated in any way, really. They just price it what they think they can sell it for, and we see that more and more at the wholesale level, and at the retail level," he explained.
Ingram said the fact that prices often change daily is an indication of over-pricing. Most gas stations purchase their fuel only once or twice a week. So while the owners pay one price for the fuel in their tanks, the price for that same gasoline can change from day-to-day for customers.
"We frown upon that very heavily, because that's just not really the right way to do business. They should be selling their gas based on what they paid for it," Ingram said
Consumer advocates report the demand for fuel is at a 10-year low. That means we're doing a pretty good job of cutting back on fuel consumption. Unfortunately, that hasn't had the expected impact of bringing prices down.
But Ingram believes there is something else we can do that will definitely do just that.
"But the other tool that we have is price shopping, and we're not doing that at all. It's virtually zero," he said.
Ingram said we can't just stop at our favorite gas station, or the most convenient. But, it doesn't mean we have to drive all over town for the cheapest gas prices.
"No, it's not worth driving from Mobile to Fairhope to save 3 cents a gallon. That just doesn't make any sense. But in your normal travel area, be aware of the prices and buy the cheapest, and that may change. It may be a different station from week to week. But, that will reintroduce some competition into the market place, and cause these big oil companies and local retail stations to compete for our business, by having the lowest price gas," Ingram explained.
According to Ingram, price shopping is the weapon that will bring about the results we all want.
Motorist Larry Welch told us he's always on the lookout for cheaper gas prices.
"I come over here and I see they were at $3.55 the other day, and they're $3.54 today," he said.
We can also save money by actually walking inside the store and paying cash for our fuel. You may not realize it, but many stations add up to 10 cents a gallon when you use your debit or credit card at the pump.
Ingram said price shopping will provide the motivation gas station owners need to compete for you business. without it, he believes the gas stations will continue to charge whatever they want.