U.S. Drivers Waste $2.1 Billion Annually on Premium Gasoline


Staff Report



AAA testing shows no benefit to premium fuel when not required by the manufacturer

COLUMBUS – Americans wasted more than $2.1 billion in the last year by using premium-grade gasoline in vehicles designed to run on regular fuel, according to new AAA research. During that time 16.5 million U.S. drivers used premium gasoline, despite vehicle manufacturers’ recommendations. AAA’s comprehensive fuel evaluation and testing found no benefit to the practice of using premium gasoline when it’s not required.

“Drivers see the ‘premium’ name at the pump and may assume the fuel is better for their vehicle,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “AAA cautions drivers that premium gasoline is higher octane, and not higher quality, and urges drivers to follow the owner’s manual recommendations for their vehicle’s fuel.”

Premium Fuel Testing:

AAA, in partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, tested 87-octane (regular) and 93-octane (premium) gasoline in vehicles designed to operate on regular-grade fuel.

Researchers examined horsepower, fuel economy and tailpipe emissions when using both fuel types in a variety of driving conditions and found no significant increases in any tested category.

“AAA tests reveal that there is no benefit to using premium gasoline in a vehicle that requires regular fuel,” said Megan McKernan, manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center. “Premium gasoline is specifically formulated to be compatible with specific types of engine designs, and most vehicles cannot take advantage of the higher octane rating.”

Consumer Survey:

To understand the magnitude of the issue, AAA surveyed U.S. drivers. Results reveal:

  • Seventy percent of U.S. drivers own a vehicle that requires regular gasoline, while 16 percent drive a vehicle that requires premium fuel. The remaining own a vehicle that requires mid-grade gasoline (10 percent) or uses an alternative energy source (4 percent).
  • In the past 12 months, 16.5 million U.S. drivers unnecessarily used premium-grade gasoline in their vehicle at least once. On average, those that upgraded to premium gasoline did so at least once per month.
  • In the past 12 months, U.S. drivers unnecessarily used premium gasoline in their vehicle more than 270 million times.

‘Premium’ Doesn’t Equal ‘Better’:

“When it comes to gasoline, ‘premium’ does not mean ‘better’ if your vehicle doesn’t require it,” said Nielson. “Drivers looking to upgrade to a higher quality fuel for their vehicle should save their money and select a TOP TIERTM gasoline, not a higher-octane one.”

Previous AAA research found that fuel quality varies significantly among gasoline retailers and that using a gasoline that meets TOP TIER standards can result in 19 times fewer engine deposits, increase vehicle performance and improve fuel economy. To protect vehicle investments, AAA urges drivers to use the appropriate gasoline as determined by their car’s manufacturer (regular or premium) that meets TOP TIER standards for engine cleanliness and performance.

Study Details:

To calculate the total annual cost of using premium gasoline when not required by the vehicle manufacturer, AAA conducted a comprehensive analysis that included a U.S. consumer survey, Federal Highway Administration data, per-gallon costs of premium gasoline and regular gasoline, and the average number of fill-ups annually. All testing was conducted at the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center in Los Angeles, California, using an industry-standard chassis dynamometer, emissions test equipment, and Environmental Protection Agency driving cycles. All gasoline used for testing was EPA Tier III certification fuel with 10 percent ethanol content in both regular and premium grades. Certified test fuel was used to remove variability in fuel quality and additives. For this study, AAA did not evaluate the effects of using regular fuel in an engine that requires premium gasoline.

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Staff Report

For additional information about premium fuel, including the full test report and fact sheet, visit NewsRoom.AAA.com.

For additional information about premium fuel, including the full test report and fact sheet, visit NewsRoom.AAA.com.