AAA study proves it: Premium isn’t better for most cars

“Recommended” is not the same as “required.”

 

Not knowing the difference when it comes to the fuel you’re pumping in your car could be costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.

The American Automobile Association on Tuesday released study results that show premium fuel doesn’t boost performance of fuel economy in cars not designed for it.

AAA said vehicles showed less than a 3 percent gain in miles per gallon and horsepower despite premium fuel’s additional 20 percent to 25 percent cost.

“AAA already proved that there is no benefit to using premium gasoline in cars designed to run on regular,” said Garrett Townsend, AAA’s Georgia public affairs director. “Now we can confidently say that unless the vehicle manufacturer requires it, or you drive in demanding conditions, motorists who buy premium are wasting money at the pump.”

Vehicles that require premium gasoline should always use it, AAA said. But last year, nearly 1.5 million new vehicles sold in the United States merely recommended, not required, premium fuel.

The trend toward recommending or requiring higher-octane fuel continues to rise as manufacturers work toward meeting stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards.

AAA estimated consumers wasted nearly $2.1 billion dollars fueling vehicles with 91 or higher octane gasoline last year. AAA tested six vehicles, a Ford Mustang GT, a Jeep Renegade, a Mazda MX-5 Miata, a Cadillac Escalade ESV, an Audi A-3 and a Ford F-150 XLT. On average, horsepower and fuel economy declined, although a couple of vehicles, including the Cadillac and the Mustang, experienced a boost in performance.

Kevin Bryant, an automotive technology instructor at Augusta Technical College, said modern engines’ computer controls will adjust if owners use the wrong octane fuel.

“You’re not hurting anything, but you’re not helping anything,” he said.

More harmful than using low-octane fuel in performance cars is using fuel blended with ethanol, a corn-derived fuel that is corrosive and lacks the energy of gasoline. Nearly all gas stations use a 10 percent ethanol blend. Bryant recommends drivers of ultra high-performance cars purchase gas from one of the few ethanol-free independent stations in town.

Fuel brands also matter, Bryant said. In 2004 an industry coalition created a designation known as “Top Tier” gasoline based on their detergent additives and other qualities. Most well-known brands such as Chevron, 76, Conoco and Exxon are part of the coalition.

“It’s better to run a higher quality low octane fuel than a lower quality high octane fuel,” Bryant said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

Metro Augusta Gas Price Averages

Regular/Mid/Premium/Diesel

Tuesday/$2.269/$2.566/$2.844/$2.733

One year ago/$2.111/$2.393/$2.640/$2.384

Source: AAA

 

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