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Does Your Car Really Need Higher (More Expensive) Octane Fuel?
With rising gas prices, do you really need to pay for the higher octane fuel? Maybe not!


John Dalog
Your next tank of gas may not need to be the higher octane fuel.


Manufacturers specify a particular octane rating that will provide the performance and fuel economy the car was designed to provide.”
Gas prices are in constant fluctuation across the country. One day they are up and the next they drop a few cents. At the same time, we’re getting more questions from consumers about the differences between regular and premium fuel and which should be used in a particular car.

Not surprisingly, the safe answer is to use whatever grade of fuel is specified in your owner’s manual or the label inside the fuel-filler flap. If your manual says something along the lines of "Premium fuel required," you can stop reading here and resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to be springing for high-octane premium gasoline.

More often, the owner’s manual will say, "Premium fuel recommended." Manufacturers specify a particular octane rating that will provide the performance and fuel economy the car was designed to provide. If you want your car to perform as designed, and premium gasoline is recommended, then use premium.

But what if you’re willing to sacrifice a little performance to save a few bucks per tank? Will it hurt anything??Probably not, but you may not see any financial benefits either.

Modern electronically controlled engines will simply adjust to compensate for different grades of gasoline, preventing mechanical problems. However, the adjustments your engine computer makes will also reduce power and, in many cases, fuel economy—exactly what you don’t want to have happen.

There’s only one way to find out what effect lower-octane fuel might have on your car, and that’s to try it.

First, record your mileage using a tank of premium. Then refill with regular and note your mileage at the end of that tank. If the extra fuel you burn offsets the price difference between regular and premium, there’s no point in making a switch. If you don’t lose much mileage and the performance is still acceptable, it may be worth running regular unleaded—just be sure to fill up with premium every third tank or so and let the engine operate at its peak.

Note too that if your car specifies regular gasoline, there’s no reason to opt for plus or premium fuel. The designations refer only to octane rating, and octane does not clean dirty injectors, lubricate the fuel pump or offer any other mechanical benefits. It does allow high-performance engines designed to take advantage of it to operate at peak efficiency. If your engine isn’t designed for the extra octane, you gain nothing except the benefit of a lighter wallet.

Whatever you choose to do next time you pull up to the pump, take heart: In the time it took you to read this article, gas prices may have dropped again.

Andrew Stoy is the digitial editor of www.shopautoweek.com a former mechanic and dealership grunt who has spent the past 15 years writing about cars in print and online and for advertising and PR firms. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English and enjoys all kinds of car-related activities. Andrew has been married for 10 years and has two young children. Follow him on Twitter @andrewstoy.

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