Should You Be Using Premium Gas in Your Car?

You pull in to a gas station and get out of your car. After you get the pump turned on, you stare at the choices that lay before you. Should you go with the cheapest fuel option and save money? Or should you spring for the premium gas (also known as super unleaded) to improve your car’s performance?

The Easy Answer
Here’s the short answer: check the owner’s manual for the vehicle which you are driving.

Most vehicles are geared to run at peak performance using regular unleaded gasoline, which will always be the least expensive choice at the pump. This is true even with some luxury cars which have bigger engines.

That said, there are a few vehicles which do require premium gasoline — and the manufacturer’s will note this in the owner’s manual. These vehicles have engines which require the higher octane levels to run smoothly. If you try to put regular unleaded gasoline into a car or truck which calls for premium, your engine may make a bunch of knocking and pinging noises and your vehicle’s performance will suffer.

When It’s Not So Easy…

To make matters more complex, some automakers say that they recommend premium fuel for certain vehicle models. If your owner’s manual uses the word “recommend”
but not “require,” then it is permissible to eschew premium and fill up with regular unleaded.

Why is that? As recently as the late 1980s, pinging, knocking, and even vibrations used to plague vehicles that did not use premium gasoline. But since then, there’s been a major change to the way engines are manufactured. Modern cars and trucks have so much advanced equipment and computerized sensors that the engines can make adjustments to how they operate based on a variety of factors — including the type of gasoline that is being used. As a result, unwanted noises that emanate from your hood have been practically eliminated for the majority of passenger vehicles that run on unleaded gasoline.

Could You Put in the “Wrong” Gas?
Get this: if you pump regular unleaded gasoline into a vehicle that recommends premium, there’s a good chance your won’t notice any difference in performance. In these cases, it make take an extra half-second to accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour. Sure, there are scenarios where that half-second may matter (like trying to avoid a collision when merging onto a busy freeway – then, your car insurance company would thank you for buying the premium gas). But if you aren’t in these situations regularly, or you don’t feel the extra expense is justified, then steering clear of premium gas probably won’t affect you at all.

Finally, all motor fuels today are better refined and engineered than the gas from the past. Detergents and additives are present in every grade of gasoline (not just premium), so the fuel you put into your car or truck is designed to keep your engine cleaner and more efficient. In other words, you don’t need to feel that you’re shortening the life of your vehicle simply because you’re not selecting premium at the pump.

In the end, it’s every motorist’s individual choice whether to shell out the extra cash for premium gasoline. If you don’t have to fill up all that often and/or you have a desire to maximize the performance of your vehicle, then choosing premium might be the way to go. But if you are trying to keep costs down and don’t have a need for speed or sudden acceleration, then regular unleaded gasoline will suffice quite nicely. 

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