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AAA: Premium gasoline not always worth the price

Staff Report • Updated Dec 19, 2017 at 8:41 AM

NASHVILLE – If you’re buying premium gasoline for a vehicle that doesn’t require it, you could be wasting your money, according to a new study by AAA.

Last year, AAA’s research into premium fuels found that consumers wasted nearly $2.1 million dollars using premium-grade gasoline in vehicles designed to run on regular fuel. As a follow-up to that research, AAA set out to determine whether the benefits in fuel economy and horsepower are worth the higher price at the pump in vehicles that only recommend high-octane gasoline.

The new AAA research shows paying up for premium may not be worth the extra money, unless your vehicle absolutely requires it.

Background

• 16 percent of U.S. drivers have vehicles that require premium fuel.

• 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.

Putting premium fuel to the test

• AAA tested a variety of vehicles that recommend, but do not require the use of premium (91 octane or higher) gasoline. Test vehicles included the Ford Mustang GT, Jeep Renegade, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Cadillac Escalade ESV, Audi A-3 and the Ford F150 XLT.

• A series of tests were conducted to determine whether the use of premium gasoline resulted in improved fuel economy or increased performance (horsepower).

• A combination of laboratory and on-road tests were performed to simulate extreme driving scenarios such as towing, hauling cargo and aggressive acceleration.

Key findings

• Although drivers of vehicles that recommend, but do not require, premium gasoline are unlikely to see any benefit from using premium gasoline during typical city or highway driving, 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 percent more than regular.

• The fuel economy improvements recorded during AAA testing do not offset the potential extra cost to purchase premium gasoline.

What AAA recommends

• 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 an auto repair facility and likely switched to a higher-octane fuel.

• Drivers who use premium gasoline should shop around for the best price, as it could vary dramatically between gas stations in any given city.

• Use the AAA Mobile app, a free tool to help drivers identify the least expensive premium gasoline near them.

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