Don’t Waste Money on Premium Fuel

Don’t Waste Money on Premium Fuel

Americans Waste $2.1 Billion a Year on Higher Octane Fuel When Not Recommended by Manufacturer

You’re at the pump, and consider refueling with premium gas. It’s only a few cents more per gallon, and it must be better for your vehicle, right?

A new AAA study  shows that changing the octane of your fuel actually doesn’t help the vehicle if the manufacturer doesn’t suggest doing so. If 87-octane (regular) gasoline is recommended for your car, using a higher octane will not lead to any added benefits. And you’d be wasting your money; spending a few more cents per gallon of 93-octane (premium) gasoline adds up fast.

It is worth noting that more and more vehicles are requiring higher-octane fuel. This study only applied to vehicles that were not recommended to fuel with premium gasoline. If your vehicle manufacturer advises using mid-grade or premium fuel, it is best to follow that recommendation.

Separate AAA research on annual driving costs from earlier this year suggests that fuel is the second most expensive aspect of owning a vehicle, with the average car owner spending $1,268 on gasoline per year.  This number increases unnecessarily when drivers pump their car with premium fuel.


Premium vs. Top Tier

What exactly is octane? The octane number is a measure of the compression ratio in the gasoline. It has nothing to do with the actual quality of the fuel—that is more aptly measured with the Top Tier quality distinction.

Top Tier gasoline contains a detergent that helps keep gunk from building up in your engine. Read more about Top Tier gas.

Factors Tested

The fuel octane study compared what happened to vehicles of the same make and model when fueled by premium versus regular gasoline. The factors analyzed were horsepower, fuel economy, and tailpipe emissions—all tested in a lab under various driving conditions. There were no significant differences in any of the tests, indicating that using premium gasoline when it’s not required for the vehicles offers no advantage.

Money Wasted

If you’re in the habit of using a premium octane when it’s not required, it may seem easy to write off the added expense since it doesn’t seem to be too much per visit to the pump. In actuality, U.S. drivers waste $2.1 billion annually on premium gasoline, and 16.5 million U.S. drivers used premium fuel unnecessarily in the last 12 months. Most of those drivers used premium at least once a month.

Here’s how fuel type breaks down in the United States:

of U.S. drivers own a vehicle that requires only regular gasoline

require premium fuel

are recommended mid-grade gasoline

use an alternative energy source

Seventy percent of U.S. drivers currently own a vehicle that requires regular gasoline, while only 16 percent require premium fuel. Ten percent use mid-grade gasoline and 4 percent use an alternative energy source.

The percentage of vehicles that use mid-grade or premium fuel has been growing and is expected to continue to do so as manufacturers work to keep up with fuel economy standards. However, you won’t be doing your engine any favors by filling up with a higher octane fuel than your car needs.

This means a vast majority of drivers should be using the 87-octane gasoline. If you’re not sure what your manufacturer recommends, check your car’s owner manual or visit the manufacturer’s website.

This study was not conducted in reverse. If you have a high performance vehicle that requires premium fuel, you should not switch to regular gas. However, if your car only needs regular grade gasoline, switching octane won’t help your engine or the environment, so you might as well enjoy the extra cash in your pocket.

Information taken from “AAA Premium Fuel Research,” 2016, American Automobile Association.