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Why High Gas Prices in Europe Are Met With More of a Shrug

There are some major, history-making kinds of changes going on in the USA that could easily spell the decline of an empire, a major loss of human rights, and the effective end to real democracy. Yet what most Americans seem to be complaining about most are high gas prices.

no worries about high gas prices in Europe

With their assumption that cheap fossil fuel would last forever, it’s a far different attitude than you’ll find on the other side of the Atlantic. They’re used to high gas prices in Europe so that’s way down the list of things to worry about. 

Why is this? Well, there are a few factors, but let’s start with the kinds of cars the mostly slim Europeans drive compared to what the mostly overweight Americans drive. It probably doesn’t help that an average American male over 40 weighs close to 200 pounds and a typical woman of that age weighs 176. While the average American has been forced—kicking and screaming mainly—to evolve to vehicles that get better gas mileage, Europeans have been driving practical cars for decades.

Their cars already got good gas mileage. Since they’ve routinely paid twice as much for fuel so that countries could properly fund their infrastructure projects, they have smartly driven cars that will go as far as possible with that fuel. 

The average gas price in the USA as I write this is between $4.50 and $5.50 per gallon apart from a few outliers at the top and bottom. By comparison, prices in Europe are measured by liter and are between €1.70 and €2.40, again with a few outliers on each side. A US gallon is 3.78 liters, which means that they are paying an average of 7.75 euros or $8.22 per gallon in the dollar equivalent across the continent. If you were driving a big SUV around Europe instead of the USA, a $200 purchase at the pump would probably not even fill up your tank. 

When I asked Europeans in Spain what they thought of the current gas prices while visiting this month, they would respond with something like, “Yes, they’re a little higher. Putin’s war…” Then they would change the subject to something more important, like what we were going to be ordering for dinner. 

small European car with ski rack

After all, most of their taxis in Spain are hybrids or electrics. So are many of the passenger cars. If not they’re mostly small and efficient vehicles that do what most people need them to do: provide transportation.

Besides, there’s a great train system, light rail, metros, good bus routes, and on it goes. 

Because they’ve had those higher fuel taxes for years, they’ve invested in infrastructure. Like high-speed trains that make Amtrak look like a sad joke. Here are the trains that had just pulled into the station in Cordoba when I arrived. This is for a city of 344,000 in the metro area that supports 16 train stops a day.

taking the train in Europe is cheaper than paying for gas

In the station I had a great meal and a cappuccino in the restaurant while the guy beside me was drinking a glass of wine with his cheese platter. There’s a restaurant, a coffee shop, multiple shopping options, and clean bathrooms. The train station in Seville (pictured in my most recent post about travel prices in Spain) has enough stores to consider it a shopping mall. The arrivals and departures board looked like one from an airport.

When you’re on the train in Spain, it’s fast. Really fast. And it never stops to wait for a freight train to move. These are dedicated tracks moving passengers from point to point efficiently, with low fuel use. Once we pulled out of the station for any of the four trips I took, the only stops we made were five-minute ones to load and unload people. Then we were off again. 

It was also cheaper to take the train than it would have been to deal with the high gas prices in Europe. Which brings us to another big difference between the two continents: incentives.

Like it or not, humans are driven (forgive the pun) by incentives. Make them think the product of squished swamps from the Jurassic era will be cheap and plentiful forever and you get giant Chevy Suburbans driven by soccer moms and giant pickups driven by people who seldom need to haul anything. when you look around you at rush hour, the majority of these thirsty hulks will have just one person at the wheel. If there’s a cleaa message through relentless advertising that a gas guzzler makes you manly, then men who have confidence issues will go into great debt to drive one. 

fuel efficient cars deal with high gas prices

If you have an incentive to conserve, however, you find a better solution that’s less wasteful. Governments and utilities find other ways to generate power. People have a reason to put solar panels on their roof and charge an electric car with them. Or bike to work. Or take public transportation. They earn status in other ways instead. 

Many U.S. consumers, the kind who made fun of me when I drove a Prius and spent next to nothing on fuel, are now kicking themselves. There’s now a rush to switch out the gas guzzler for something better. For many of them, they waited too long. They weren’t prepared for a shock to the global system. Here’s a quote from a Kelley Blue Book story about what’s happening at car dealerships now: 

Dealers have a thin supply of hybrids and fuel-efficient small cars to sell. You’ll have a much easier time finding a full-size truck or 3-row SUV in dealer stock.

The worse the fuel efficiency, the longer the vehicles are sitting on the lot, now three or four times as long as the quick-moving hybrids. That’s not an issue in most of Europe though. The only people who buy pickup trucks are farmers and other people who haul things for their job. It’s not a compensation device. If you see someone in a big SUV, your first thought is that they’re a Russian oligarch on the run.

I’m sure if I drove on Germany’s Autobahn I’d see some sleek Italian sportscars getting horrendous gas mileage as they zoom by me, but anyone driving one of those also isn’t complaining about gas prices at the pump. That expenditure pales in comparison to what it costs to fill up their yacht. If they have enough money to buy a Ferrari or two, fuel costs are not in their sphere of concern. So they’re no whining either. 

For a whole lot of reasons, my fellow Americans who love to dish out blame are dishing out plenty for high gas prices–while seemingly forgetting that there’s a war, resulting sanctions, and a series of shipping bottlenecks around the world. Across the ocean though, high gas prices in Europe are barely making the news. 

If you want to see what I saw in Spain while I was there, check out that video posted further up that I did for YouTube. I’ll leave you with this shot from Bulgaria though: this is what a Mercedes parked near my rental apartment this morning looked like. A Mercedes! 

small car in Europe better gas mileage

The next day I spotted this one: 

small mercedes fuel efficient



Monday 15th of August 2022

Europeans also don't mind living on top of one another. Americans by and large, like their space. Thus its quite difficult to build a suburb that has all the amenities that large cities do. I'd love to be able to easily get around without my car, but I'm not willing to live in an overpriced cracker box with a non-existent or tiny yard. Our cultural differences just can't be compared.

Lucas James

Monday 4th of July 2022

Thanks for bringing this to light. It really is a shame to see how the US, my home country, has crumbled down into the joke that it is today. I only pray that folks will soon snap out of this daze and get things together. Blame culture has become way too normalized to the point we can't look inward and look for a solution. Keep up your great work. -Lucas

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 6th of July 2022

I hear you. I'm glad to have a base outside the country because it feels like the USA is imploding. Women in Mexico now have more rights than ones in my birth country do. By minority rule, we are going backwards and around 1/3 of the population still believes the sore loser last president somehow prevailed, even after 50+ failed lawsuits and people around him saying the man himself knew he lost, but he tried to steal the election anyway. But they can't believe a Russian war and recovering worldwide economy has anything to do with high gas prices...


Friday 1st of July 2022

Very helpful information. Thank you for giving this information.


Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Well said Tim. Sadly, the United States continues to move towards Idioarcy while Western Europe is continuing to see the long term effects in their actions and policies.


Monday 15th of August 2022

@Trip, blame our government and the greedy, crony capitalists. We in California pay the most gas tax in the country, yet our roads are crap and we have very little mass transit options. As much as we pay, there should be monorail systems and other means of transportation. I live in a highly congested county because housing is affordable but people commute to the neighboring county for better pay. The one route that was available to build a highway into the neighboring county that would have saved commuters 30-60 minutes of travel time, was blocked by a very powerful and corrupt corporation (the Irvine Company) and homes were placed there instead. The people always get the rotten end of the deal here.

Eva Rozycki

Monday 27th of June 2022

You are confusing your gallons. The US gallon of gas is 3.78 liters, the imperial gallon of fluid is 4.55 liters. Nobody in Europe commutes the distances we do. I was brought up in Europe.

Tim Leffel

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Ah, you're right. That's what I get for trusting the first converter that came up in Google search. They didn't specify a difference. Fixed now, thanks.