Rejoice. The great gas spike is officially over.
Prices have fallen as much as 81 cents a gallon at some Bay Area stations over the past month and could drop 25 to 35 cents more in the next few weeks. Most motorists are now paying far less than they were before pump prices took off four weeks ago at an unprecedented pace, reaching a record $4.67 a gallon on Oct. 9.
And there's no reason for the West Coast to fear Hurricane Sandy, the paralyzing storm that has shut down numerous refineries on the East Coast and could send prices higher on the Atlantic seaboard.
"Sandy will have no impact on the West Coast," said Patrick DeHaan of Gasbuddy.com. "Just as your problems were isolated to the west, so Sandy is isolated out of the west.
"Prices in San Jose will likely drop under $4 a gallon soon. Same holds true for the California average. How low? High $3 range."
The California average of $4.14 a gallon on Tuesday was two cents lower than on Sept. 30. South Bay drivers were forking over $4.09 a gallon, which is 10 cents cheaper than the average price one month ago.
The average in the East Bay stood at $4.13, or five cents lower than four weeks ago. San Francisco area drivers were paying $4.28 a gallon, and while that was two pennies more than last month, even there the drop has been steady.
From San Diego to Los Angeles to Santa Cruz and up to Redding, a fill-up is becoming far less painful. The cheapest gas is in Modesto, where prices were $3.96 a gallon.
Drive around a little and you can find gas for a lot less. The Rotten Robbie station on Julian Street in San Jose listed gas at $3.79 a gallon Tuesday, well under the $4.59 price on Oct. 9.
"I'm shocked the price of gas has started to fall again," said Mike Nelson, 33, an accountant from Mountain View. "I thought the price would continue to rise to $5 or so."
Mary Diaz paid $4.15 in Pleasanton last week, which "thrilled me since it was $4.39 a week earlier."
A gallon of gas cost Ron Chun of Palo Alto $3.90 a gallon last weekend at Costco in South San Francisco, which he called "terrific and a pleasant surprise."
Prices in the Golden State raced out of control after the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond last summer and outages at two Southern California refineries, plus a pipeline breakdown between Northern and Southern California. Those problems came at a time inventories were low as the state switched from its summer to winter blend of fuel.
"There now is abundant supply of gasoline in California," said energy watcher Bob van der Valk. "Even a motorist waiting until the last minute to fill up your car will have an effect as prices continue to spiral downwards until the end of the year."
AAA predicts that the national average of $3.53 a gallon will fall as low as $3.40 by Election Day and even lower by the end of the year. California is typically 35 to 40 cents more expensive than the rest of the U.S.
While some California drivers howled as prices soared, others say they didn't see a change in driving habits.
"I did not notice any change in other drivers' behavior," said Chris Knight, a 33-year-old computer engineer from Santa Clara. "Cars, trucks and SUVs all blasting past, pedal to the metal, just so they can get to the next red light five seconds before me."
But some drivers made changes. Chun knows current prices are still 26 cents higher than this time a year ago. So he gritted his teeth, he says, and bought a Prius, looking forward to getting 48-plus miles per gallon, and he began to ride Caltrain and BART to his job in San Francisco.
"It's not the dream car that I wanted when I was in high school," Chun said. "But I'm happy that I have it."
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.