For the most part, premium gas is only worth the money if your car’s manufacturer requires it for your vehicle. Otherwise, it's a waste of money to use premium fuel for a car that runs fine on regular gas—in most cars, any improvements in performance or fuel efficiency will be negligible.
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Read on to find out how to determine which fuel type is right for your car!
What is premium gas?
Premium gas is a higher octane fuel (grades 91 and 93), as opposed to regular gas (grade 87). In vehicles requiring premium gasoline, this gas boosts performance and improves fuel efficiency.
Higher octane fuel does a better job of preventing knocking in the engine.
In this context, knocking refers to small, early detonations of fuel within an engine’s cylinders. If they occur at the wrong time, have the potential to seriously damage an engine.
Premium vs. Regular
The honest truth is that most cars run just fine on regular-grade (87) fuel.
That being said, certain cars will get better performance with premium gasoline, as noted by the car’s manufacturer. If your car will benefit from premium gas, you’ll likely notice that improvement when accelerating, and in the car’s passing response. That’s usually about it.
Today, most engines are built and optimized to run perfectly well on regular gasoline. That being said, if you hear engine knocking (which sounds like marbles rattling around in a can), feel free to give premium fuel a try, which should stop the knocking. If the knocking continues, take your car to a reputable mechanic to check your engine.
Key Takeaway: Check with your manufacturer to know for sure whether your vehicle requires premium gasoline or not.
Is premium fuel worth it?
Premium fuel is typically worth it only if the manufacturer requires premium gas for your vehicle.
Otherwise, you’re paying about 50 cents a gallon more for nothing. In fact, the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) has publicly stated that it sees no benefit to using premium fuel unless required by the manufacturer. That being said, check your owner’s manual to be sure.
If premium gas is recommended for your car, you may notice a boost in acceleration and fuel economy, and this higher-grade fuel may accentuate a luxury or high-end car’s performance attributes. However, if you’re not a car enthusiast or very well-attuned to your car’s performance, you might not even notice a difference.
Still, even a car where it is recommended to use premium gas should run fine on regular fuel. To be sure, try a regular tank first—if it works fine, keep your money and stick with regular gas. If you hear engine knocking, or if the performance feels off, give premium fuel a try.
For older vehicles with high mileage, a tank or two of premium gas here and there may give a boost to a vehicle’s performance and efficiency. However, if you notice knocking, get the engine checked.
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Does premium gas keep your engine cleaner?
While you used to be able to make the argument that premium gas was slightly better at keeping a car’s engine cleaner, that’s no longer the case. Nearly twenty years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated that all gas grades use detergent additives so that engines would run cleaner, and to reduce the amount of carbon deposits in an engine.
Today, most major oil producers produce Top Tier grades of gas containing more detergent additives that exceed EPA recommendations.
What types of cars require premium gas?
Cars—often high-performance ones—boasting engines designed to take advantage of a higher fuel grade’s added octane require premium gas. This type of fuel adds more power, improves fuel efficiency, and ensures the car can reach higher horsepower capacity.
Such high-performance vehicles usually have:
High compression ratios (allows an engine to derive more energy from gasoline)
Variable valve timing (changes how intake, exhaust valve work at various engine speeds—improves performance, reduces emissions)
Advanced ignition timing (helps raise high-end power of the car)
Higher boost pressure in turbocharged engines (adds more air into the engine that, when matched with more fuel, results in more power)
Still, most cars today are designed to optimize regular fuel and, with anti-knock technology, won’t require premium gas. The car’s power, performance, and fuel efficiency shouldn’t be affected.
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