Don't plan on a vacation from higher gasoline costs this summer.

AAA Carolinas said Thursday it expects fuel to cost more this summer vacation season compared to last year. South Carolinians are paying on average 75 cents more for a gallon of gasoline than this time last year.

Still, pump prices are better than two years ago.

"Last year, we saw some of our biggest increases in April and May," said Tom Crosby, AAA Carolinas vice president of communications. "This is what it is now. It is going to be more as the summer-driving season approaches. How much more, we don't know," Crosby said.

Oil prices increase with expectations that the country is beginning an economic recovery, which in turn lead to higher gasoline costs, he said.

"Gas prices go up and stop the recovery from being as robust as predicted. It can have a stifling effect on the recovery," he said.

Last April, the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in the Palmetto State was $1.92. Now, it is $2.67. But two years ago it was $3.47 per gallon.

The average sedan driven 15,000 miles this year will cost $400 more to own and operate than last year, mainly because of higher gas prices. SUV owners can expect to shell out $600 more this year because of gas prices, AAA Carolinas said.

Drivers can fight the gas-price roller coaster with some simple steps. Crosby said that maintenance and good driving habits increase mileage. A clean air filter, properly inflated tires, driving the speed limit and using cruise control can stretch a gallon of gas. For every five miles per hour over 60 mph, fuel consumption increases dramatically. Jack-rabbit starts and stops send the fuel gauge toward "E" quicker, he said.

"You control a lot of your fuel consumption by the way you drive," he said.

The fluctuating gas prices have driven business at a new scooter store that opened this week on Savannah Highway. "We've seen three or four customers who came in this week who are concerned with the cost of gas," said Trevor Donovan, general manager of Low Country Scooter. Mo-peds sold there are advertised as getting 100 miles per gallon.

Car buyers are seeking more fuel- efficient vehicles too. Hybrids that combine electric and gasoline power are now offered in larger, more powerful sedans and sport utility vehicles. "It's always a concern. People want the better gas mileage," said Will Floyd, sales manager at West Ashley Toyota.

The 2010 Prius hybrid is billed as getting 51 miles per gallon in city driving. Toyota also sells a hybrid version of the Camry sedan and the Highlander sport utility vehicle. "We're seeing a lot more sales of the hybrid-type vehicles," Floyd said.

Low Country Scooters was an online business that opened a store on Savannah Highway because of customer demand, Donovan said. It has been averaging two scooter sales daily, he said.

"I'll see 20 mo-peds go by in an hour on U.S. 17," he said.

Last week, the federal government announced new rules aimed at boosting mileage, cutting emissions and hastening the next generation of hybrids and electric cars. The standards, announced last Thursday, call for a 35.5 miles-per-gallon average within six years, up nearly 10 mpg from today.

The rules will cost consumers an estimated $434 extra per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016, the government said. However, it is projected that car owners would save more than $3,000 over the lives of their vehicles through better gas mileage.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or