Any time you pull up to the gas pump, you’re faced with a few options. There’s always the regular gasoline available, of course, but most fueling stations will also have a couple of upscale versions of petrol—including a “premium” gasoline. This gasoline is always a few cents more expensive, and there’s a reason for that. In theory, it offers an enhanced performance for your vehicle. The question is, though, is premium gasoline actually worth those extra pennies?
According to the experts at AAA, the answer is a resounding no—or at least, a no for most drivers. In fact, a new AAA report notes that 16 million Americans buy premium gas each year, despite the fact that they really don’t need it—and in doing so, they waste a whopping $2.1 billion annually.
Does Your Vehicle Need Premium Fuel?
The question is, are you one of the select few Americans whose vehicle really does need the expensive stuff? Here’s the short answer: If your owner’s manual explicitly tells you to fill the tank with premium fuel, then do so. If not, then don’t. For cars that don’t need premium fuel, there is no evidence to suggest that adding it improves fuel economy, performance, or anything else. Premium gas in non-premium vehicles also doesn’t lead to lower emissions or to higher horsepower.
“We used something called a chassis dynamometer, dyno for short, which is more or less a treadmill for a vehicle,” AAA’s Greg Brannon says. “Through some very specific tests following EPA guidelines … we were able to very scientifically quantify the difference — or in this case, the lack of difference — in both performance, emissions and fuel economy as a result of placing premium in a vehicle that is only calling for regular fuel.”
Why Do Drivers Still Use Premium?
Cars that are built for regular gasoline simply aren’t able to take advantage of premium fuel, Brannon says—so why is it that so many drivers fill up with a more expensive type of fuel? AAA’s study finds that the drivers who do needlessly use premium fuel do so at least once a month, which can really add up.
Brannon says the whole thing likely boils down to savvy marketing on the part of the gas companies. “I think it comes down to simply the naming — premium,” he affirms. “You put ‘premium’ on the pump, and the consumer’s likely believe that it is a premium product over the others that they have available to them, and therefore, are making that selection.”
Does Premium Gas Damage Your Car?
Now, while using premium gas might be a needless expense for many drivers, the good news is that it’s not actually going to hurt your vehicle—just your bank account.
The implication in all of this is that drivers should check their owner’s manual today. If it turns out that your used vehicle really does need the good stuff, then keep using it—but if not, feel free to save a few bucks at the pump.