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What is Top Tier Gas and Is It Worth It?

By Josh Noel | August 5, 2022

Top Tier gas is a brand-name fuel that has been treated with specific additives and detergents to help prevent and even reverse carbon build-up inside of a vehicle‘s engine.

A study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) indicated that the fuel does what it promises and maintains cleaner engines than competing gasoline brands, meaning better operation and longevity of your vehicle‘s motor. Despite a slightly higher cost per gallon, about three cents per gallon, Top Tier Fuel is probably worth the extra money in the long run.

Most drivers are simply trying to stretch their dollars at the pump, and may not see the benefit of exerting the effort to search out a fuel that actually costs more than the competition. This article will explain what Top Tier gas is and how it may benefit your car‘s long-term health.

What is Top Tier Gasoline?

As previously stated, Top Tier gas is fuel that has been treated to reduce carbon deposits, through the addition of specific detergents. You may not know that gasoline is a commodity that is refined from crude oil and then shipped, trucked, or piped to central fuel terminals, where it is comingled in large containers prior to being purchased by various gas retailers. Though it does contain antioxidants and some detergents when the fuel is in these huge tanks it really is “all the same.”

After that fuel is purchased, the fuel resellers supplement the fuel with proprietary detergent additives, and that is what makes it different than competing products. If the fuel is being blended with ethanol, that is also added after it is purchased at the fuel terminal. Top Tier gasoline must be treated with approved additives, cannot have certain organometallic additives, and the retailers must display the Top Tier logo prominently at the station. The Top Tier standards and fuel additives are a special blend that meets strict requirements and can help your car run better and emit less pollution over time.

Does My Car Require Top Tier Gas?

No car requires Top Tier gasoline, but automakers do see the benefit of running engines on high-quality fuel. In 1996 the EPA began to regulate the minimum level of detergents in gasoline for road vehicles. Testing had revealed that car emissions were getting cleaner, but after a few thousand miles, carbon buildup meant that vehicles were polluting well above acceptable limits.

Building off of what the EPA had started, a group of automakers began researching the value of a predictable, quality fuel they could recommend to their customers, and improve the reliability of the car brands. In 2004, Top Tier was launched to certify fuel companies as offering fuel that met these companies‘ standards. Participating manufacturers include Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Stelantis (formerly Fiat-Chrysler), Toyota, and Volkswagen. These automakers recommend Top Tier detergent gasoline to support the performance and long life of their engines.

Premium, Mid-Grade, and Regular

Top Tier gasoline should not be confused with Premium gas as labeled on the pump. Octane ratings are set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are the numbers displayed in black and yellow on the fuel pump. While a Premium rating does mean a fuel meets the minimum octane requirement, it does not necessarily indicate the product is a high-quality fuel. Gas stations selling Top Tier fuels are required to meet the same Top Tier standards for additives in Premium, Mid-Grade, and Regular Unleaded, not just meeting minimum requirements for octane. The Top Tier qualifications apply to diesel fuel as well.

Though octane level is not an indication of fuel quality, many vehicles do require a particular grade of gasoline, so be sure to check your owner’s manual. A higher octane rating is generally necessary for cars that have high-compression engines or are equipped with turbochargers or superchargers. The octane rating is a measure of the fuel’s stability, and the higher heat and pressure of these engines can cause lower octane fuels to combust prematurely, damaging the engine. It is important to run the minimum octane required for your vehicle, regardless of which brand of fuel you use, or gas station you fill up at.

Is Top Tier Gas Worth It?

Yep. No one ever says fuel prices are too low, but paying slightly more for a specific brand of gas can actually save you money in the long run. An independent lab tested Top Tier fuel against other non-Top Tier gasoline and found that after running for 100 hours, simulating 4000 of real-world driving, the Top Tier fuel left significantly less carbon on the intake valves, fuel injectors, and in the combustion chamber. The study also found that when running Top Tier fuels, carbon deposits in dirty engines were actually reduced by up to 72 percent after 5,000 miles.

These engine deposits can cause engine trouble like rough idling, engine knocking, lagging acceleration, increased emissions, and can even reduce fuel economy. This reduced engine performance and potential long-term damage likely offset the additional cost of Top Tier fuels, which is generally less than a few cents per gallon compared to other gasoline brands.

These deposits can also cause your car to pollute more, with studies indicating that carbon monoxide emissions can be doubled in a car with carbon buildup and hydrocarbon emissions can be as much as 30% higher. A dirty engine is also less efficient with studies finding that fuel economy can go down as much as 5% due to carbon deposits. For a car that gets 20 miles per gallon that is a reduction of one mpg. That is equivalent to 0.65 gallons per fill-up for a car with a thirteen-gallon tank or $2.60 when gas costs four dollars per gallon. To fill up that same tank with Top-Tier gasoline would cost about 39 cents more than competing brands. That quick math tells us that keeping your car’s engine clean can save you money every time you fill the tank, not to mention the savings on potential repairs down the road.

The bottom line is that even when gas prices are high, most motorists would benefit from paying a couple of cents more per gallon at the pump to maintain the performance and fuel economy of their vehicle. Carbon deposits that these fuels prevent can help your car run cleaner, smoother, and longer, in addition to maintaining the efficiency of the engine over time.

Where to Get Top Tier Fuel?

There are a large number of well-known gasoline brands and licensed retailers that offer Top Tier fuels. Any of the stations listed below should offer only fuel that meets the Top Tier standard, though each brand uses a unique formula. If in doubt look for the Top Tier signage when you fill up, to be sure you are getting high-quality fuel that is better for your car. For a complete list of retailers, you can check out toptiergas.com.

  • 76

  • Aloha

  • ARCO

  • Beacon

  • Breakaway

  • Cenex

  • Chevron

  • CITGO

  • Conoco

  • Costco Wholesale

  • CountryMark

  • CountryMark Plus

  • Diamond Shamrock

  • Express Mart

  • Exxon

  • Fast Fuel

  • GetGo

  • Holiday

  • Harmons Fuel Stop

  • Hawaii Fueling Network (HFN)

  • Hele

  • Kirkland Signature Gasoline

  • Kwik Star

  • Kwik Trip

  • Marathon

  • Meijer

  • Meijer Express

  • Metro Petro

  • Mobil

  • Ohana Fuels

  • Phillips 66

  • QT

  • Quik Trip

  • Ranger

  • Ranger Fuel

  • Ranger Mustang

  • Ranger Stallion

  • Ranger Thoroughbred

  • Reeders

  • Road Ranger

  • Rutter's

  • Shamrock

  • Shell

  • Simonson Station Stores

  • Sinclair

  • Sunoco

  • Texaco

  • Tobacco Outlet Plus Grocery

  • Valero

  • Value America

  • WOW

  • Win Win