Gas prices

What is Winter-Blend Fuel, and How Could It Save You Money? Here's What to Know

Gas prices typically fall as we enter the autumn and winter months, with the production of winter-blend fuels, according to GasBuddy.

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It sounds like the latest latte flavor at your favorite coffee shop -- but it may actually be key to saving you a few extra dollars at the gas pump, where prices have been skyrocketing.

On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a directive to the California Air Resources Board, asking the agency to take any steps necessary to release winter-blend gasoline early.

Air regulators are allowing "the manufacture, importation, distribution, and sale of winter blend gasoline" starting a month before Oct. 31, when the process typically begins, they said in an advisory to sellers.

But what is winter-blend gasoline, and how would making more of it available earlier in the fall help lower gas prices?

What Is Winter-Blend Gas?

Gasoline comes in many different variations, based on where the gasoline is being sold and what regulations are present, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The kind of gasoline sold in a state that limits certain emissions will be different than the gas sold in a state without those restrictions, for example.

Gas prices have risen over $2 since this time last year. John Cadiz Klemack reports for Today in LA on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.

Another factor that can change the grade of gasoline blend being sold is the time of year -- and that's where summer- and winter-blend gas comes in.

According to GasBuddy, an app dedicated to helping people save money on gasoline, the higher temperatures in the summer mean gas has a greater chance of evaporating from a car's fuel system during that time of year.

To avoid that evaporation, and the associated smog and increased emissions that it can produce, oil refiners switch up their gas blends.

Summer-blend gas has a lower "Reid vapor pressure," meaning it's less volatile and less likely to evaporate in high temperatures. Making sure gasoline meets those standards makes it a higher-grade fuel, which adds to the cost.

But in the winter, when temperatures are lower and there's less risk of gasoline evaporating, refineries don't need to put in that extra work. The lower-grade winter-blend fuel has a higher Reid vapor pressure, which is actually helpful in the winter because it means your car can ignite the fuel more easily in cold temperatures.

How Could Winter-Blend Gasoline Help With Sky-High Gas Prices in California?

Many in California, including the Air Resources Board, are uncertain why gas prices are so high in the state.

"The gasoline market in California is currently experiencing very high prices for reasons that industry has not made clear, but that appear to include, in part, a recent refinery fire, West Coast refinery maintenance challenges, Hurricane Ian, and other geopolitical events," the regulators' advisory reads.

The hope is that making lower-grade, cheaper-to-produce, winter-blend fuel will increase supply without adding cost to the refining process, and lead to a drop in gas prices around the state.

Gas prices typically fall as we enter the autumn and winter months, with the production of winter-blend fuels, according to GasBuddy.

Newsom's directive just aims to speed the process along, and drop the prices sooner in the calendar year.

Will Using Winter-Blend Fuel Sooner Decrease the Air Quality?

According to air regulators, the impact of using winter-blend fuels earlier in the year should be "minimal."

"Any impacts on air quality caused by this action are expected to be minimal and outweighed by the public interest in temporarily relaxing the RVP limits."

Other emission regulations and requirements for gasoline quality remain in place, the Air Resources Board said.

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