AAA: Premium Fuel Not Always Worth the Price
Fact Sheet / Full Report / Photos
MADISON, Wisc., (December 12, 2017) — Do you buy premium gasoline when you don't need to? Some motorists think they are doing their car a favor. AAA released new research that shows paying-up for premium may not be worth the extra money, unless your vehicle absolutely requires it.
While some vehicles are designed to run on premium octane gasoline, others simply recommend it. So AAA set out to determine the effects of using premium gasoline in vehicles that recommend it, and whether the benefits in fuel economy and horsepower are worth the higher price at the pump.
The Price of Premium
Putting Premium Fuel to the Test
- According to national averages, the price difference between regular and premium gasoline is approximately 20 to 25 percent, or 50 cents per gallon.
- Yesterday, the Wisconsin state average price for a gallon of regular was $2.39 vs. $3.07 for premium. (Click here to view today’s averages)
- AAA tested a variety of vehicles that recommend, but do not require the use of premium (91 octane or higher) gasoline.
- A series of tests were conducted to determine whether the use of premium gasoline resulted in:
- Improved fuel economy
- Increased performance (horsepower)
- Since drivers of these vehicles are unlikely to see any benefit from using premium gasoline during typical city or highway driving, a combination of laboratory and on-road tests were performed to simulate extreme driving scenarios such as:
- Hauling cargo
- Aggressive acceleration
- Test vehicles included: Ford Mustang GT, Jeep Renegade, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Cadillac Escalade ESV, Audi A-3, and the Ford F150 XLT (see photos)
"Sometimes consumers think they are giving their vehicle a boost by buying a higher-grade gasoline than what is required,” said Nick Jarmusz, director of public affairs for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “AAA already proved that there is no benefit to using premium gasoline in cars designed to run on regular. Now we can confidently say that unless the vehicle manufacturer requires it, or you drive in demanding conditions, motorists who buy premium are wasting money at the pump."
- Most vehicles showed a modest improvement in fuel economy and performance.
- 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 result averages ranged from a decrease of 0.3 percent (2016 Jeep Renegade) to an improvement of 3.2 percent (2017 Ford Mustang).
- Premium gasoline costs 20-25% more than regular.
- The fuel economy improvements recorded during AAA testing do not offset the potential extra cost to purchase premium gasoline.
- Click here to read the full report
Some motorists may consider the additional torque and horsepower to be worth the extra money. Individual drivers - particularly if their driving style can be described as "spirited" - may find an improvement in vehicle driving performance for off-the-line acceleration, highway passing, hill-climbing when loaded with luggage, or towing a trailer; and may determine that their personal driving benefits from the use of premium gasoline.
Premium Gas - Recommended vs. Required
"By offering a choice, automakers can market modest gains in fuel economy and performance, and car buyers are less likely to hesitate about buying the vehicle, because their operating costs will be lower," Jarmusz continued. "Unfortunately, by only recommending premium fuel, the engine cannot be calibrated to take full advantage of the higher octane, because it also needs to perform adequately with lower octane (regular) fuel. Therefore, the fuel economy and performance gains are only minor."
- Last year, nearly 1.5 million new vehicles sold in the United States recommend, but do not require, premium gasoline.
- The trend toward recommending or requiring higher-octane fuel continues to rise as manufacturers work toward meeting stringent CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards.
Higher Octane Does Not Mean "Higher Quality"
- Drivers of vehicles that require premium gasoline should always use it.
- For those vehicles that do not recommend or require premium gasoline, AAA suggests drivers opt for the lower priced, regular fuel.
- Any vehicle that makes a “pinging” or “knocking” sound while using regular gasoline should be evaluated by a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility and likely switched to a higher-octane fuel.
- AAA urges drivers who use premium gasoline to shop around for the best price, as it could vary dramatically between gas stations in any given city.
- The AAA Mobile app, is a free tool to help drivers identify the least expensive premium gasoline near them.
Find Local Gas Prices
- AAA found no benefit to using premium gasoline in a vehicle that only requires regular-grade fuel.
- In a study released last year, AAA found that consumers wasted nearly $2.1 billion dollars fueling vehicles with higher-octane gasoline.
- Drivers seeking a higher quality fuel for their vehicle should consider using one that meets Top Tier standards. Previous AAA research found it to keep engines up to 19 times cleaner.
- The study noted the difference in fuel quality was dependent on the various detergent packages in gasoline, which vary by retail brand.
About The Auto Club Group
- Daily national, state, and metro gas price averages can be found at Gasprices.aaa.com
- Motorists can find the lowest gas prices on their smartphone or tablet with the free AAA Mobile app. The app can also be used to map a route, find discounts, book a hotel and access AAA roadside assistance.
The Auto Club Group (ACG) is the second largest AAA club in North America. ACG and its affiliates provide membership, insurance, financial services and travel offerings to over 9.4 million members across eleven states and two U.S. territories including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; most of Illinois and Minnesota; and a portion of Indiana. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 57.7 million members in the United States and Canada and whose mission includes protecting and advancing freedom of mobility and improving traffic safety. Motorists can map a route, identify gas prices, find discounts, book a hotel, and access AAA roadside assistance with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.