The price of UK petrol versus the price of US gas

Posted on April 15, 2012


Having so many relatives on both sides of the English-speaking Atlantic one subject that comes up again and again is the price of petrol (I’ll keep saying that instead of gas). Would you believe it, it even trumps tomato/tomato conversations.

One thing I hear often is that prices in the US are getting so high they’ll soon rival prices in Europe. I wasn’t so sure that’s true – that’s how this blog post came to be.

Dramatic photo – shame it’s for diesel*

For purposes here, I’ll stick to a strict US:UK comparison and I’ll cite the average costs I’m referring to.

Let me just say out front, however, it would help if we could even agree on what the hell a gallon is.

Anyway, when I get petrol I usually pay about £1.40 per litre – which is $2.22 as of now (at an exchange rate of £1:$1.584). Remember, that’s per litre.

How many litres are there in a gallon?

Well in the UK the internet tells me there are 4.546. So that’d be £6.36 per gallon. (When I was a kid, when petrol was usually priced in gallons, I remember it being about £1. But I digress. And sound old.)

But the US gallon – the “statute of 5th of Queen Anne (US wine gallon, standard US gallon)”, Wikipedia tells me – is 3.785 litres. By my reckoning, that type of US gallon (there are others) is therefore 83.26% of a UK gallon.

For the astute among you, you’ll also be wondering how many pints or quarts there are in such a gallon. I think the only answer that doesn’t involve me tapping the calculator again is: “Not eight or four.” (Or if there are, are they smaller pints and quarts? [Pulls hair out.])

So for a US liquid gallon, petrol in the UK comes in at $2.22 x 3.785 = $8.40.

I know gas prices can vary a lot around the US. (They vary a bit here too but for purposes here I’m talking about what I practically buy, with a tiny bit of shopping around.) But I don’t know of many people paying $8.40 per gallon. Not yet. And maybe not for a number of years.

$4-$5 is more common, right?

I realise that is historically still high. I also realise an incredible amount of what we pay in the UK (approx. 80%?) is taken in government taxes but still, there is a big difference. It’s still perhaps twice as expensive as in the US to fill up.

One last thing. There are factors people forget that might make this feel less uneven. The price of petrol/gas isn’t the only factor in how much it costs to run a vehicle. Even if we assume parity in areas such as insurance and road taxes (there isn’t but let’s go with that), then in the US cars are still on average larger and distances travelled greater. Not for everyone, sure, but this is all about generalisations.

Given those two things, there were times when I spent about as much on gas in the US in a given week as I’d spend on petrol in the UK.

I suspect that alternatively powered vehicles will bring about change before anything done by oil companies or government treasuries.

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*Photo ‘Diesel‘ by DanDeChiaro used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic (CC by 2.5)

Posted in: Family, General