Americans Waste $2.1 Billion a Year on Premium Gas

File photo of a gas pump Jan. 23, 2015 in Florida (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
File photo of a gas pump Jan. 23, 2015 in Florida (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Do you put premium gasoline in your car? You’re probably wasting your money. A new study by AAA found that 16.5 million Americans had filled up their cars with premium gas unnecessarily in the past year. That’s $2.1 billion, completely wasted.

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Roughly 70 percent of Americans own cars that have no practical need for premium gas and only need regular. AAA conducted tests using 87-octane (regular) and 93-octane (premium) gas in those kinds of cars and found that the premium gas gave absolutely no benefits above the regular gas.

“Drivers see the ‘premium’ name at the pump and may assume the fuel is better for their vehicle,” John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, said in a statement.

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Just 16 percent of Americans own a car that requires premium fuel. And if you’re in that 16 percent you probably know who you are. The remaining 14 percent? Those people need the mid-grade gasoline. At this point I’d suggest checking your car’s manual to figure out which camp you’re in.

But here’s the part where car novices might really be thrown for a loop. According to AAA, there is a wide variety of quality in gas, depending on which retailer you choose. Which is to say that not all 87-octane gas is created equal.

From AAA:

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.

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So all those “top quality” gas ads I make fun of on TV? Apparently there’s something behind that.

“When it comes to gasoline, ‘premium’ does not mean ‘better’ if your vehicle doesn’t require it,” continued Nielsen in the AAA statement. “Drivers looking to upgrade to a higher quality fuel for their vehicle should save their money and select a TOP TIER™ gasoline, not a higher-octane one.”

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So unless your car really needs 93-octane gas, go ahead and grab that 87 nozzle. There’s no sense throwing away money just because the sticker says “premium.”

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

I was hoping this study would expose some gasoline retailers for not actually having 93 octane in premium tanks.

I have a turbo truck that has a tune for dedicated 93 octane fuel, so it is very sensitive and will knock if even subpar 93 premium fuel is used.

I’ve filled up a few times at “budget” gasoline retailers and noticed a bit of knocking and weird side effects on 93 that is almost immediately remedied when I put in some octane booster.

It goes without saying I have a mental list of “crap” stations near me now. I do have to say that Sunoco and Shell never give me problems even if the station appears out of date.