Gas is most likely the biggest expense a car owner has to deal with on a regular basis. People are paying more at the pump than ever and this has made folks start to wonder how they can save as much as possible. If you have looked at the different types of gas and wondered why some are more expensive than others, you’re not alone.
There are usually a few different grades of gasoline available at a pump. Regular, mid-grade, and premium are the most common and they can vary widely in their prices. Understanding whether premium gas is worth the extra money it costs can help you make the best choices at the gas station and keep your car running at its optimal performance level.
Can I Use Regular Gas If My Car Recommends Premium?
The short answer is yes, you can use regular octane gas in your vehicle even if it recommends premium fuel. Modern cars' engines have sensors that will detect the octane of gas you're using, and will adjust the engine's performance accordingly.
Lower-octane gas can increase the likelihood of your engine knocking (which you may or may not hear) but it doesn't damage your engine to use regular gas when premium is recommended. Just know that there are some vehicles that have slightly more horsepower when using premium fuel.
But if you're looking to save a little money right now by using regular gas rather than premium, you're free to do so.
However, if your vehicle says it requires premium gas, then you should probably follow that recommendation in order to keep getting the maximum performance out of the engine.
Just note that it's not common for a vehicle to require premium gas and the ones that do are almost always high-performance vehicles. In short, you'll know it if you car needs premium gas.
Is Premium Gas Worth It?
One of the reasons people buy premium gas is that they think it will improve the performance of their car or give them better gas mileage. The truth is, premium gas should only be used in cars that have engines with high compression ratios. Otherwise, you will not be getting any benefits from the premium gas.
Premium gasoline has a higher octane level, which means that it can withstand higher compression and will not detonate before it is supposed to. This helps eliminate the possibility of knocking or other engine timing issues with high-compression engines. If you have a standard engine with a normal compression level, you don’t have to worry about putting higher octane gas in it.
Differences Between Premium and Regular Gas
While most people will not need to use premium gas, there are differences between them. It is not just a scam to try to get people to spend more money. Understanding some of the differences between regular and premium gas can help you decide whether it will be worth spending the money to get premium.
The biggest difference between regular and premium gas is the level of octane that is in it. Regular gas has a minimum level of 87 octane in most places. For premium gas, the octane level will usually be either 91 or 93. Some cars should have a higher level of octane in their gas, but most standard vehicles on the road can do with regular just fine.
Cars that need a higher octane rating are usually high-performance vehicles or vehicles that have a turbocharger. These vehicles’ engines are much more compressed and could potentially ignite regular gas before it is supposed to be detonated. This can cause knocking, pinging, and other inconsistencies that could potentially wear out the components faster.
Premium fuel will also usually have higher levels of detergents and cleaning additives than regular will. These detergents are usually available in the most expensive gasoline and they are designed to help clean the inside of your engine and mitigate any corrosion or blockage. This can be important if you have a vehicle that you use all the time or often drive long distances for work or vacations.
The types and levels of detergents in premium gasoline will change depending on the retailer and the producer. It can be difficult to find the exact same ratios everywhere you go, which makes getting premium solely for the cleaning properties not worth the effort. For most people, your vehicle will get along just fine without the detergent additives.
Many people think that getting premium gasoline means they are getting less ethanol than they would with regular gasoline. In fact, the opposite is true and most higher-octane fuel also has a higher level of ethanol in it. When ethanol is added to gasoline, it ends up having a higher octane rating, which is why many manufacturers use it to boost their rating.
The problem with ethanol is that it contains less energy than gasoline. This means that higher levels of it could potentially reduce your horsepower and give you less power than you would get from regular fuel. Of course, it depends on the manufacturer, but it is a safe bet that higher octane gas will also have higher levels of ethanol than lower octane gas no matter where you go.
When Should I Use Premium Gas?
While most people probably do not need to use premium gas, there are some who should. Understanding how octane levels work can help you decide whether high-octane fuel is a good idea for your car. However, there are also times when it is a requirement and should be taken seriously.
Your Owner’s Manual Says To:
If your owner’s manual says that your car requires premium fuel, it is best to heed that warning. This generally means that your engine has a high compression ratio and could develop problems with a lower-octane fuel. Always check your owner’s manual for this type of information as it will be your best guide to keeping your car running smoother for longer.
However, if your owner’s manual recommendeds that you use premium fuel, you don’t always have to listen to this. Manufacturers of vehicles like the Ford F-150 and Mazda MX-5 Miata recommend that owners use high-octane fuels but it is not a requirement. For the most part, the Electronic Control Unit in modern vehicles can adjust the engine cycle if the gas is detonating too early and there will be no issues.
You Have a Turbocharged Engine:
If you have a turbocharged engine, you should also most likely use premium gasoline. Turbocharged engines operate at a very high compression ratio and the fuel system is usually under immense pressure. In these cases, it is best to pay a little extra for the higher-octane gas.
One of the benefits of higher-octane gas in a turbocharged car is that you will often get better fuel economy from it. Because you will be burning fuel slower than you would with regular gas, your fuel efficiency will go up and you will spend less time heading to the gas station to fill up, which can be an issue with turbocharged vehicles.
Not sure if your engine is turbocharged? If it's a European model and less than 10 years old, it's most likely a turbo. Otherwise, check your owners manual for details.
When Should I Use Regular Gas?
For the most part, vehicles can use regular gas without any issues. Automakers program the timing of the engines to work with all kinds of fuels and modern cars can make adjustments in real-time. Because of this, you will more than likely be able to use regular gas with nearly any vehicle you own.
You Have an Older Vehicle:
If you have an older vehicle, using regular gas is highly recommended. Older vehicles have lower levels of compression in the engine and low-octane gas won’t ignite too early. As long as your older car doesn’t have a turbocharger, you can use the cheaper, minimum octane gas without any issues.
In some cases, however, if your older car is already producing engine knock, using a premium gasoline could help mitigate this. Many older cars will not have Electronic Control Units or knock sensors that can reduce the pre-ignition that is happening due to other reasons beyond the type of fuel. When this happens, switching to a premium gasoline could help reduce the amount of knock the car is producing.
You Have a Regular (non-performance) Engine:
As long as you don’t have an engine that is designed to be high-performance and runs under incredibly high levels of pressure, regular unleaded gasoline will be more than sufficient. If you have a standard engine, using premium gas won’t give you any added benefits like better mpg or higher horsepower.
The only time you might consider using premium gasoline in a car with a standard, the stock engine is if you are concerned about the cleanliness of the lines and the engine itself. In this case, using premium gas could technically be beneficial due to the added detergents and cleaners in the gas mixture. However, the actual effect of that is negligible and may not be doing anything aside from costing you more money at the pump.
What is Octane or an Octane Rating?
While it is one thing to understand that premium fuels have a higher level of octane, it is important to know what octane is. Essentially, octane is a unit of measurement that dictates how much compression fuel can stand before it ignites. This is why engines with higher compression ratios usually need higher octane levels for their fuel.
If your fuel is not being ignited by the spark plugs at the correct time, it can cause issues with your engine and inconsistencies due to the detonation happening too soon. This is called pre-ignition. Ignition timing is incredibly important when it comes to getting the most out of your engine and if the timing is off, you could end up with issues with the engine performance as well as engine damage if it happens too often.
Using a lower-octane fuel in a high compression engine can cause engine knock. This is when the pocket of the fuel and air mixture detonates out of sync with the pistons and releases pressure at the wrong point in the cycle. Low-octane gasoline in an engine that has a high level of compression can do this very easily, which will eventually wear out the pistons and other engine components.
With gas becoming more expensive by the day, knowing the difference between the types of fuel can be a big help in saving you some money at the pump. By understanding what the numbers on the nozzles mean, you can make the right decision for your car.
While it may not make much of a difference when it comes to the efficiency or power of your vehicle at the moment, using the right gasoline can help keep your car running smoothly for many years and add to the longevity of your engine’s most expensive components.