Gasoline prices are headed lower and might even drop below their average a year ago by early next week, analysts said.
In California, the average price for regular gas Monday was $3.996 a gallon, 17.3 cents less than a week earlier, according to the Energy Department's weekly survey. It was the first time that the California average has been less than $4 a gallon since Aug. 6, when it was $3.868.
Barring any new refinery or petroleum pipeline problems, drivers in most parts of the U.S. can expect prices to inch lower, experts said. Areas damaged by super storm Sandy, however, might see prices rise because of heavy demand and short supplies.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, warned that it might not "feel like much relief" because this last "year was the most expensive ever for the average price of gasoline."
The California average was still 14.1 cents above the year-earlier price. Gasoline prices in the state have now fallen 66.3 cents a gallon since reaching a record $4.659 on Oct. 8.
Analysts and California energy experts blamed the state's spike on low gasoline supplies, low fuel production, refinery outages and exports of fuel to overseas customers.
The U.S. average Monday was $3.492 a gallon, down 7.6 cents from a week earlier but 6.8 cents higher than the price a year earlier.
Nationally, among the 10 large cities the Energy Department tracks, only New York saw a price increase in the last week. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline there rose 0.3 cent to $3.695, the Energy Department said.
"Even with Hurricane Sandy causing havoc on refineries and infrastructure in the Northeast, gasoline prices nationally have continued to trend lower," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.