How Much Will California's Proposed $400 Gas Tax Rebate Help You?

Would $400 really cover a full year's worth of taxes for gas in California?

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On Thursday, a group of California state lawmakers proposed a $400 rebate for the gas tax, in light of the sky-high gas prices that drivers are paying right now.

While announcing the proposal, lawmakers said the $400 would more than cover a full year of California's gas tax.

The rebate is just a proposal for now, with some distance to go before it's signed into law. But would it really cover a full year of taxes for gas?

We spent some time crunching numbers so you don't have to. Here's what we found.

What We Know

California's gas tax for the period between July 2021 and June 2022 is $0.511 per gallon of gas, according to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

Assuming the gas tax rate stays the same after June 2022, the $400 rebate covers the state taxes a Californian would have to pay for roughly 782.8 gallons of gas.

That's a significant amount for the 16,710,195 Californians that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates are employed, over the age of 16 and working somewhere other than where they live, based on one of its American Community Surveys for 2016-2020.

Around 82% of them, or 13,702,360 people, take a car, truck or van to work.

Some of them -- about 10% -- carpool with others, and even then, not all of those cars, trucks and vans run on gasoline.

But for daily commuters who do fill up at the pump instead of the charger, how many times could you fill up your tank before you have to pay the gas tax again yourself?

How Many Miles Can the Average Driver Go With the Proposed $400 Rebate?

According to the EPA, the average "estimated real world fuel economy" in the United States in 2021 was 25.4 mpg.

It would take about 19,883 miles for someone with a car that has 25.4 mpg to use up the full 782.8 gallons of gas you get tax-free from the $400 rebate.

The actual number of times you'd have to fill up your tank in that time would vary depending on the size of your car's gas tank.

Since the tax is based on the number of gallons you're buying and isn't tied to the price of gas when you head to the pump, the tax and the number of gallons it covers stays the same.

A new gas tax rebate has been proposed to help drivers keep up with the rising gas prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The size of your gas tank comes into play when you start wondering how many commutes the rebate covers.

How Many Commutes Would It Take an Average Californian to Use the Gas Tax Rebate Money?

A smaller car like the Honda Fit has a gas tank that holds 10.6 gallons. On the other hand, larger cars like the Jeep Grand Cherokee have tanks that hold a whopping 25 gallons of gas.

The top-selling car in California, according to consumer reports website Edmunds, is the Honda Civic. Depending on the year, the gas tank for the Civic falls somewhere between 11 gallons and 13.5 gallons

These calculations were made assuming the car in question has a 13-gallon tank.

A commuter with a 13-gallon tank and 25.4 mpg can travel 330.2 miles before the tank is completely empty.

The average Californian has a commute of about 29.8 minutes, according to that same Census Bureau survey data.

To make the math easy, let's assume you're traveling an average of 55 mph during your commute -- between surface street and freeway speeds. (Your own mileage may, literally, vary, especially if you don't need to go on the freeway to get to work.)

Traveling at 55 mph for about half an hour gets you 27.5 miles away from where you started, giving a rough estimate of how far Californians are traveling.

If you're traveling faster, and it takes 30 minutes to get there, it's a longer distance that will burn more fuel; if you're traveling slower, and it takes 30 minutes, it's a shorter distance that will burn less fuel.

A 27.5-mile commute would burn a little over one gallon of gas for the average driver with a 25.4 mpg car.

Burning a little over two gallons of gas to travel a total of 55 miles each day, with a 13-gallon tank, it would take about 6 days of commuting to go from one full tank of gas to an empty one.

That same math means the full $400, 782.8-gallon rebate would pay for the gas tax on just over 60 totally-empty uses of your 13-gallon, 25.4 mpg gas tank. That's about 361 days of commuting 55 miles to work and back.

So Will The $400 Gas Rebate Cover A Full Year of Gas Taxes?

It's possible, but it's a tight squeeze, based on this example. An overall 361 days of commuting is less than a 365-day year, and with the holidays, weekends and vacation time many people have, the rebate would cover taxes for one calendar year of work.

But most people travel for other reasons as well.

If you decide to go out for the weekend, you work multiple jobs in different areas, or you just take a long trip to see family, that all adds to how much fuel -- and money -- you're burning on a regular basis.

These calculations won't apply perfectly to everyone, because the nature of averages is that they take the midpoint of a lot of sometimes widely different data.

For example, the most popular cars in America overall, according to Edmunds, are trucks in the Ford F-series, which tend to have tanks closer to 25 gallons, some even more. All other factors staying the same, the owner of that car could commute for around 11 days before they'd need to stop for gas again, so they'd get more "days" of tax-free gas from the rebate.

A commuter with a more efficient vehicle could also travel farther before using a gallon of gas, extending the time until their next refill.

The amount of gas you use up varies with how fast you drive and how fuel efficient your car is. That knowledge can help you save at the pump if you use it to your advantage, but it also makes it hard to predict exactly how often everyone will fill up their tank.

If your commute is extra-long, you find yourself having to make a lot of road trips this year, or you're continually stuck in traffic and burning fuel without going anywhere, you might find yourself refilling more often, and the $400 rebate might not quite cover the taxes for a full year.

But if you work remotely all or some of the time, you have a super-fuel efficient car, or you're lucky enough to have a short commute, you're probably in luck if the proposal by California state lawmakers passes.

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