Motorists’ consensus: It’s better than paying $4 a gallon.

While prices at the pump appeared to creep slightly upward Friday, drivers have been enjoying significantly lower prices for the past month. The cheapest price in Ottawa for a gallon of unleaded was $2.99 Friday morning — 29 cents less than the national average of $3.28 and down from nearly $4-a-gallon gas mere months ago.

While she doesn’t do a lot of driving because she works in Ottawa, Jan Shuck said she has appreciated the lower prices.

“I’m not complaining at all,” Shuck said as she filled up at Ottawa’s Short Stop, 1621 S. Main St. “It means more money to spend on other things like groceries or other bills or whatever.”

Several factors could have played a role in the recent price drop, according to the American Automobile Association. Larger gas inventories, lower crude oil prices, less demand for gasoline during the winter months, as well as a switch to less-expensive winter blends of gasoline, could be key factors, AAA said in its Fuel Gauge Report. The ongoing economic downturn also is making people think twice about how often they find themselves at the pump.

While Shuck isn’t sure why the prices have dropped, another driver agreed with AAA about several reasons being behind the price.

“I think because of the economy, less people are driving; just a supply and demand type deal,” Mike Ratliff said at the pumps at the Conoco Gas Mart, 2243 S. Princeton St., Ottawa.Ratliff, who originally is from Ottawa, but lives in Columbia, Mo., said he was surprised to find that prices in Missouri are comparable to those in Ottawa.

“Usually it’s higher here, but it’s the same, and I like it,” he said.

Ratliff said he understands that gas prices are affected by the sometimes volatile oil market, so there isn’t much he can do about what he pays at the pump.

“Still seems like a lot of money for a gallon of gas, but it’s better than $3.67,” Ratliff said.

A solution to the looming “fiscal cliff” might dictate what gas prices do in the coming weeks, one expert said.

“Whether gas prices continue to rise or turn lower will be impacted by action — or inaction — in Washington surrounding the looming ‘fiscal cliff,’” Avery Ash said in the latest AAA Fuel Gauge Report overview.

Other experts said the “fiscal cliff” will have little affect on the prices, and the recent price fluctuations merely are a seasonal trend.

“It’s happened six out of the last seven years: The national average has risen between Christmas Day and Jan. 15, and this year there’s no reason to believe now that this won’t happen again,” Patrick DeHann, a petroleum analyst, said in his blog.

With prices potentially back on the rise, it’s important motorists keep their vehicles maintained, Steven Smith, manager at Auto Zone, 1630 S. Main St., Ottawa, said.

“Fuel system cleaners — what they do is they clean out your injector and prevent wasted fuel by leaving it un-burned, and it allows a much cleaner burn. So, it’s more efficient,” Smith said.

Regular maintenance, such as changing the oil and air filter on a regular basis, also help to save gas, he said.

“Keep things tuned-up and do regular maintenance,” he said.