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Is Premium Gas A Gimmick?

Pulling up to the gas pump today is a lesson in economics, especially when it comes to premium gas.

We’ve always been taught that quality is better than quantity, but does that still hold true when it comes to gas prices? And what exactly is premium gas anyway? Is it worth it, or is it just a gimmick?

We’ve got the answers to these questions and more, so you can save the economics lesson for your paycheck.

Let’s jump in!

What Is Premium Gas?

Premium gas all depends on the level of octane in the gas. At the pumps, you’ll generally find three levels of octane grades. Those levels are often labeled as regular or 87-octane, mid-grade or 89-octane, and premium or 91 and above octane.

We usually assume the higher the octane rating, the better the gas.

However, most of us will still choose the least expensive gas price over the idea of the better gas. So what is the best choice? Is it better to choose premium over regular and what’s the difference anyway?

How Does Premium Gas Differ From Regular Gas?

The two components that help to define the major differences between premium and regular gas are octane rating and price. 

According to the U.S. Energy and Information Administration premium fuel nationally averages about 60 cents more per gallon than regular gasoline and 25 cents more than midgrade gas.

So why would anyone pay such a premium price for premium gas?

There has to be a reason and that reason is the octane level. Kendrick Oil defines the differences between these gasoline types with ease. Regular gas has no lead compounds, is a byproduct of crude oil, and has an octane rating of 87.

Premium gas also has no lead compounds and is a byproduct of crude oil.

The difference is that it generally has an octane rating of 90 or higher. Because of this higher octane rating, premium gas may be better for the environment as it creates less pollution while also helping your engine and emissions system stay more fuel-efficient and cleaner. Ok, great! But what does an octane level or rating mean?

Person using credit card to pay for premium gas
Premium gas comes with a premium cost…but is it worth it?

What Does An Octane Rating Mean?

An octane rating is simply a term used to define the heat resistance in the fuel and its ability to handle the energy and heat that comes from the combustion when an engine starts. Starting a gasoline-powered motor takes a lot of energy and heat. 

When an engine starts it’s using a combination of air and fuel ignited with a spark plug resulting in emitting a great deal of energy and heat (combustion). When combustion happens spontaneously between the air and fuel without the spark plug, it creates a noise referred to as knocking. Not only is this sound obnoxious but it could cause damage to the pistons and cylinders in the engine. 

So, using a proper octane level should prevent the sound, yes. But more importantly, it should also prevent the air-fuel mixture from igniting spontaneously, possibly causing damage to the engine.

The higher the octane rating, the more it can withstand the heat and energy from the combustion. And when used to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations and requirements, can increase fuel economy and prevent possible damage to your car’s engine and emissions control system.

Pro Tip: Spilled some premium gas on your clothes? Don’t stress! This is How to Get Gas Smell Off of You and Your Clothes.

Is Premium Gas A Gimmick

Now that you know what an octane rating is, maybe you’re wondering if premium gas is just a gimmick to get you to spend more money at the pump. After all, not all cars need premium gas, or do they?

Premium gas can be a gimmick if you think that using it will automatically give you better gas mileage.

If your vehicle’s engine doesn’t call for premium gas, you probably won’t get any benefit from using it. Overall, premium gas isn’t a gimmick if used when needed.

Different types of gas options at the gas pump.
If your vehicle doesn’t call for premium gas, don’t waste money on it!

The Benefit Of Premium Gas

On the other hand, if your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends or requires using premium gas at high octane levels, there’s a reason for it. Engines designed with turbo-charge or high performance need higher octane levels to perform at their best.

Many newer vehicles or large, heavy-duty trucks may require premium gas. You’ll know by either checking the owner’s manual or the inside of the door to the gas tank.

Even if your vehicle doesn’t require premium gas, there are times when it could benefit from a higher octane fuel. Those times may be when towing heavy loads or anytime your engine is working harder than normal. The best route to follow under normal driving conditions, though, is the one set by the manufacturer.

When Should You Use Premium Gas?

On that note, if you’re ever in doubt as to when you should use premium gas, do so if the manufacturer requires it. This will ultimately give you the best performance and fuel efficiency no matter when you’re driving. 

If you use a lower than required octane-rated fuel, there’s always a chance that your engine could be damaged over time. However, if you choose to use a higher than recommended octane rating fuel, you won’t risk damage to your vehicle, but you probably won’t notice any difference in fuel efficiency, either.

Pro Tip: Don’t let your premium gas get ruined! Learn more about How Does Sugar in Your Gas Tank Ruin the Vehicle’s Engine?

Is Premium Gas Always Better For Your Car?

Simply put, if the vehicle manufacturer requires premium gas, use it. These types of vehicles usually have high-compression engines, turbochargers, and additional high-performance components that need the ability to withstand the increased heat and energy that these engine types put off.

If you are inclined to lean more towards the inexpensive lower octane rating fuel and the manufacturer only recommends premium gas, then see how your car performs using one over the other. If there aren’t any differences, then using lower octane-rated gasoline could be a better choice for you, your car, and your wallet.

Don’t Fall For Gas Pump Hype

Premium or regular gas? Choosing the wrong type could mean nothing or it could be another lesson in economics when you’re trying to budget for unwanted engine repairs.

But choosing between one or the other doesn’t have to be difficult. If the vehicle manufacturer doesn’t require premium gas, save your money and don’t get it. It won’t help your vehicle perform any better. 

On the other hand, if the manufacturer requires premium, then spend the money at the pump so you don’t have to spend more at the shop. If there’s only a recommendation, then you get to experiment a bit and see what works best for your car.

If regular gasoline does the job, take the money saved from not buying premium and put it towards some new tires, instead. Those will most definitely increase your car’s performance, just as using the proper fuel will.

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  1. Roy Voeller says:

    As was stated, follow your vehicle manufacturers recommendations. I pull a TT with a 2014 F150 with the 3.5L Eco-Boost. When pulling the TT I always use the highest Octane gas that I can find. Because turbos create a lot of heat, the higher octane fuel helped quite a bit in many ways. Better milage, less overheating issues on long or steep pulls, better performance, etc. I am not sure if my owners manual recommends or not as to using the higher octane but, I have done a lot of research to find out how to reduce the overheating issue the occurs with the Eco-Boost when pulling heavy loads. Discovered informations similar to the points made in this article that in the end proved to be substantiated by the lessening of overheat problems that I had encountered before starting to use the high octane fuels.

  2. Ken Larson says:

    Just read this article. Roy is right on in his post. I had a 2018 and now a 2022 F150 with the Eco-Boost engine, 10 speed trany and 3:55 rear end. I also use premium when pulling our 5300 lb TT. Get great gas milage, generally, between 12-14 mpg at highway speeds (65-70 mph). Both engines ran/run cooler which good news.