Picking High-Quality Gas for Your Car Matters More Than You Think

Data from AAA shows that what you put in your gas tank may matter more than you originally thought.
Written by Andrew Kidd
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Saving a few cents at the pump now could mean paying
more on repairs
later. Data published by AAA shows that there are more differences in the quality of gasoline sold at
gas stations
in the U.S. than you might have thought. 
independent lab testing showed gasolines that met “
Top Tier
” standards kept engines cleaner, adding that non-TOP TIER gasolines caused 19 times more engine deposits than their additive-enhanced counterparts after 4,000 miles of driving.

More stringent fuel requirements

TOP TIER introduced detergent-enhanced gasoline in 2004 when 10 of the world’s largest automakers including GM, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen balked at the EPA’s current minimum detergent requirements for fuel retailers. Essentially, they wanted to ensure the fuel their customers were using kept their vehicles’ engines cleaner.
And it’s not just for premium fuel; premium just denotes a grade of fuel intended for high-performance engines with higher compression ratios that might be fouled by lower-octane fuel. TOP TIER fuel retailers are required to use detergent-enhanced gasoline for all grades—meaning you might already be filling up with TOP TIER fuel and not even realize it.
Fuel retailers that offer
TOP TIER-certified fuel
76, Exxon, Chevron, Shell, Marathon, Mobil, Valero, Sunoco
and several big-box and wholesale store fuel centers like Meijer and Costco. These retailers will normally have a “TOP TIER” logo displayed prominently at the pump.

Is better gas really worth it?

It’s easy to feel jaded by an organization sponsored by automakers telling you to spend even more on something seemingly as benign as gasoline, especially when you’d assume the government standards in place already would be sufficient enough to keep it from wrecking your engine.
But your biggest investment outside of your house is worth it, according to automakers who thought the fuel standards enacted by the EPA in 1996 were not stringent enough to protect engines from carbon deposits and ensure optimal vehicle performance.
“AAA was surprised to learn the extent to which detergent additives impact gasoline quality,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “As advertised, tested TOP TIER gasolines kept engines remarkably cleaner than other fuels we tested.”
AAA also urged drivers to consider spending the extra 3 cents more per gallon for TOP TIER gasoline, noting that Americans are six times more likely to choose a gas retailer based on price and location rather than fuel quality.
Though in times when the price of fuel is skyrocketing, consumers may be a little reluctant to eat that 3 cents per gallon. As
Consumer Reports
has reported, those who fear the cost can find solace in knowing that larger retailers like Costco often aggressively price their gasoline to be competitive—including their TOP TIER offerings.

An electric future

current trends
are an indicator, worrying about which grade of fuel to use might become a thing of the past. Most major automakers have announced their electric vehicle ambitions for the coming decades—and you don’t have to worry about charging with premium electricity in your new Tesla or
electric F-150

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