Americans Wasted $2.1 Billion on Premium Gas in 2016

According to AAA research, U.S. drivers wasted over $2.1 billion on premium gas in 2016. The study says 16.5 million American drivers used the premium fuel even though manufacturers specifically advised against it. The AAA study analyzed different grades of fuel to determine the benefit to users of high octane fuel. Based on industry-standard test protocols for fuel economy, performance and emissions, AAA didn’t find any benefit from using the premium grade gas in vehicles that require only regular-grade fuel.

“Premium Gas” Doesn’t Mean “Better Gas”

The problem with the term “premium gas” is that it becomes synonymous with “better gas” in the minds of drivers. All “premium” really means is “more expensive.” It’s true that the premium fuel is higher octane. Regular gas has an octane rating of 87 while mid-grade has an 89 rating and premium’s rating runs as high as 93. Auto experts claim cars that need premium and don’t get it can suffer from engine knocking which decreases engine efficiency over time. However, not all cars need premium to avoid knocking and pinging. In fact, many cars today are specifically designed to run on regular octane gas.

The AAA Premium Gas Test

AAA’s premium gas tests show there’s no benefit from putting premium in a car or truck made to run on regular fuel. The test used a dynamometer. That’s basically a car treadmill that measures fuel economy, horsepower and tailpipe emissions. The cars in the test used both regular and high octane gas but found no difference in any measure of performance. In plain terms, the more expensive fuel did not boost fuel economy, improve horsepower or cut down on engine emissions. The study doesn’t specifically mention knocking or pinging, so it’s unclear whether there could still be some long term decrease in efficiency from the use of a lower octane fuel. That said, it seems like AAA would have mentioned increased knocking if they’d observed it.

The Premium Gas Waste Factor

AAA found that 70% of all U.S. drivers own cars that need regular gas. Only 16% own cars that need premium gas. Another 14% drive cars that need mid-grade gas or run on alternative energy. During the past year. 16.5 million U.S. drivers who didn’t need premium fuel bought it at least once. Drivers who upgraded unnecessarily to premium-grade gas did it at least once every month. The unnecessary use of premium fuel happened 270 million times in the last 12 months.

How to Tell if a Vehicle Needs Premium Gas

premium-gasThe big question is, if 70% of all cars don’t need premium gas, how do we know which is which? The type of gas needed by any car is printed on the inside of the gas cap door. Vehicles that need premium will have the words “Premium Gasoline Required” fully visible inside that fuel door and also in the technical specs manual. Generally speaking, only supercharged or turbocharged engines need premium to prevent pinging or knocking. High-horsepower, high-compression engines like exotic sports cars often need high octane fuel. Other vehicles can easily get by with regular octane gas. If an engine is knocking or pinging audibly, premium fuel can quiet the noise and improve the engine’s long-term efficiency.