With gasoline hovering around three bucks a gallon, the price difference between Regular and Premium grades of unleaded has become just a few percent. Back when gas was a buck, that 10 cent difference would add 10 percent to your total. Somehow the difference still is 10 cents which means at $3 a gallon, its a mere 3% to trade up. So if you get just one mile per gallon better gas mileage, then getting the more expensive gas makes it the cheaper option. So we wanted to know, is paying more for higher grades of gas worth the extra money?
The short answer is no. The higher grades of gasoline get you absolutely no better gas mileage for the average car. Most cars are made for 87 octane gas. The only time you might do better is if your car was designed for higher octane gasoline. Your car will run worse if you use an octane level that is lower than recommended. So if your car is designed to run on 89 octane gas, buying regular 87 unleaded gasoline will get you worse gas mileage, but upgrading to 91 or 93 won't get you any more miles per gallon than buying the mid grade at 89.
So what is an octane rating anyway? Probably 5% of the car drivers out there actually have a clue about what an octane rating is, so if you keep reading this article, you'll join an elite club. Simply put, the octane rating is a measure of the gasoline's resistance to combustion. Higher octane gas requires more energy for it to explode. Higher octane gas also has lower levels of "knocking" which is what happens when gas explodes too quickly in the combustion process. If you took the pure hydrocarbon octane and measured it, it would get a rating of 100.... a perfect score. Gasoline is a mixture of hydrocarbons and hence has a lower than 100 score. The lower the score, the easier it is to combust, the earlier in the combustion cycle it explodes, and the more prone it is to knocking. Now you know why if your car knocks (which is a problem that can lead to engine damage), people will recommend a higher octane gasoline.
So unless you are driving something like an Aston Martin DB7 Volante with a high compression engine that requires 93 octane, you are probably just wasting your money. Take a minute, open your glove box, and read your owner's manual to find out what's recommended. If you've been buying higher octane than you need, you can stop it and spend the $75 to $150 on a nice meal or two.
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