You’ve just bought your dream car, the one you’ve diligently worked extra hours and saved your hard‐earned dollars to purchase. Along with a home mortgage and college tuition, a new vehicle is one of the largest investments most women will ever make. The fact that your investment loses some value the minute you drive it off the lot is one of the sad facts of vehicle ownership. Therefore, it is in your best interest to start babying that car so that it maintains the minimum resale or trade‐in value, when years later, it no longer suits your needs. You may decide to trade in your prized Miata convertible for a more family‐friendly model, like a mini‐van or crossover SUV.
You understand the importance of regular maintenance ‐ oil changes, tune‐ups, tire rotations, winterizing, and brake adjustments. The dealership from which you purchased the car will send you reminders when it’s time for those types of services. If you bought from a private party, you’ll have to keep up with these tasks and schedule them on your calendar as you would any other appointments.
However, there’s one decision affecting engine performance that is often made based solely on price; and that is what you put in the tank.
When gasoline prices are skyrocketing, the tendency is to grab the cheaper, lower octane pump handle, rather than the mid‐grade or premium fuel at higher price point. Octane levels indicate the performance potential of the fuels. Sales of premium fuels have risen almost 15% in the recent past. The most important question is whether premium gas is really worth the sometimes 15 or 20 cents per gallon cost difference.
Mason Hamilton, Petroleum Markets Analyst at the U.S. Energy Information Administration told Digital Trends “Think of gasoline as a cocktail. You need to blend certain ingredients to get a good‐tasting cocktail. Regular gasoline is like a simple drink, but premium takes a more complicated blend to get the higher octane. They put in alkylates and reformates, which are like putting very expensive Italian or French Vermouth in the cocktail. So it takes a bit more pocket change to buy a gallon of that gasoline.”
The federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards call for manufacturers to reach 40.3-41.0 mpg by 2017, and 48.7-49.7 by 2022, up from 35.5 in 2016. To meet these standards, which save millions of barrels of oil annually, automakers have had to become more creative in their engine design, creating smaller engines with turbo boost so that we still get the horsepower we’ve grown accustomed to and the fuel efficiency we need. It has also prompted billions of dollars in research for tomorrow’s hybrids, electric, and hydrogen fuel‐cell vehicles.
If you look inside the flap you open to fill your tank, you will see whether your vehicle requires premium fuels or if they are simply recommended. In the old days, if you put regular gas in a vehicle that required premium fuel, you could damage the engine. These days, if you do that, you may get decreased performance but not engine damage.
In the past decade, torque, horsepower and fuel efficiency have increased due to industry innovations, and will only continue to improve.
So, if your vehicle requires premium fuels, whether it’s a fine sports car or an economy model, pony up the extra pennies for the higher octane. If it’s only recommended and you’re willing to settle for less than optimal performance, consider a lesser grade. However, remember that higher octane fuels have more detergent additives that can help your engine run cleaner and stop residual build‐up that gums up your engine and creates problems down the road. With vehicle ownership, as in life, there are always trade‐offs.
Gasoline is one of the most regulated commodities on the planet, so if you buy fuel from any of the big companies, you will get fuels formulated to meet or exceed premium fuel standards. That translates into consistent quality whatever you buy. But buying premium when your car is designed for regular offers no real benefit, so it’s just money down the drain.