AAA tests show premium fuel benefits don’t always outweigh the cost
COLUMBUS, Ohio (December 12, 2017) – Premium gasoline offers some benefit to select vehicles, but the high cost may outweigh that advantage for many drivers, according to new AAA research. As a result, AAA recommends drivers weigh the potential benefits against the cost of using premium gasoline if their vehicle doesn’t require it.
Nearly 1.5 million 2016 vehicles sold in the United States recommend, but do not require, the use of premium gasoline (91 octane or higher). In the past few years the gap between premium and regular-grade gasoline has risen from 10 percent to 25 percent, or about 50 cents per gallon.
Past AAA research showed no benefit to using premium gasoline in a vehicle designed to operate on regular fuel. For this latest research, AAA partnered with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center to determine what, if any, benefit premium gasoline offers vehicles that recommend, but do not require, the use of premium gasoline.
Although drivers of these vehicles are unlikely to see any benefit from using premium gasoline during typical highway driving, when using premium fuel under extreme driving scenarios, such as towing, hauling cargo and aggressive acceleration, AAA laboratory tests found:
Fuel economy for test vehicles averaged a 2.7 percent improvement. Individual vehicle test result averages ranged from a decrease of 1 percent (2016 Audi A3) to an improvement of 7.1 percent (2016 Cadillac Escalade).
Horsepower for test vehicles averaged an increase of 1.4 percent. Individual vehicle test results averages ranged from a decrease of 0.3 percent (2016 Jeep Renegade) to an improvement of 3.2 percent (2017 Ford Mustang).
These modest fuel economy improvements during extreme driving scenarios do not offset the higher cost of premium gasoline.
“Premium fuel has the potential to boost a vehicle’s fuel economy and performance, but engines have to be calibrated to require that fuel to see the full benefit,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “Based on AAA’s testing, vehicles that only recommend premium gasoline can’t take full advantage of higher octane fuel and, as a result, the benefit that comes from upgrading to premium gasoline may not offset its high cost.”
The trend toward recommending or requiring higher-octane fuel continues to rise as manufacturers work toward meeting stringent CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. AAA offers the following advice to consumers:
Follow the vehicle owner’s manual to determine which type of gasoline to use. Always use premium gasoline on vehicles that require it.
Drivers of vehicles that recommend, but do not require, premium gasoline should consider their driving habits, and the potential benefits and costs associated with using higher-octane fuel.
If your engine makes a “pinging” or “knocking” sound when using regular fuel in a vehicle that recommends premium gasoline, a higher-octane fuel may resolve the issue, but it’s a good idea to have the vehicle checked by a reputable repair shop.
Drivers who choose to use premium fuel should shop around for the best price.
Drivers looking for a higher quality fuel can select a TOP TIERTM gasoline. Previous AAA research found that gasoline meeting TOP TIERTM standards resulted in fewer engine deposits than non-TOP TIERTM fuel. TOP TIERTM gasoline is available in all octane levels. Learn more at TOPTIERgas.com.
The full report, fact sheet and other information regarding this study can be found on the AAA Newsroom.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial- and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited online at AAA.com.