CHARLOTTE, N.C. – According to new research from AAA, premium gasoline offers some benefit to select vehicles, but is becoming increasingly expensive for drivers. In recent years, the price gap between premium and regular-grade gasoline has risen from a historically steady 10 percent to 25 percent or more per gallon.
While past AAA research has shown no benefit in using premium gasoline in a vehicle designed to operate on regular fuel, new testing indicates that some vehicles – those that recommend, but do not require premium gasoline – may see increased fuel economy and performance under certain driving conditions when using the higher-octane gasoline.
Unfortunately, the high cost of premium gasoline may outweigh that advantage for many drivers. As a result, AAA Carolinas recommends drivers weigh the potential benefits against the cost of using premium gasoline, if their vehicle does not require it.
In the last five years, the price difference between regular and premium fuel has been steadily increasing.
North and South Carolina gas prices on December 12 from 2013-2017.
“What this research reveals is that premium gasoline isn't always worth the extra cost and even those vehicles that recommend the higher grade still might only see minor gains,” said AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety president Tiffany Wright. “However, a high performance car or a vehicle that is regularly used for hauling or towing may experience less engine wear and tear in the long run when using premium gasoline, but the benefits come at a higher price at the pump.”
AAA tested a variety of vehicles that recommend, but do not require, the use of premium (91 octane or higher) gasoline. Although 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 towing, hauling cargo and aggressive acceleration. When using premium fuel in these vehicles under these conditions, AAA tests found that:
- 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).
- According to national averages, the price difference between regular and premium gasoline is approximately 20 to 25 percent, or 50 cents per gallon.
- The modest fuel economy improvements found in AAA tests do not offset the higher cost of premium gasoline.
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. However, a vehicle that requires the more expensive premium gasoline may dissuade a car buyer, leaving automakers to balance higher performance with what consumers desire. Rising prices for premium gasoline, coupled with great variation in prices across the country, compounds this issue.
For those vehicles that do not recommend or require premium gasoline, AAA suggests drivers opt for the lower priced, regular fuel. In a study released last year, AAA found that consumers wasted nearly $2.1 billion dollars fueling these vehicles with higher-octane gasoline. However, drivers of vehicles that require premium gasoline should always use it. Additionally, any vehicle that makes a “pinging” or “knocking” sound while using regular gasoline should be evaluated by a repair facility and likely switched to a higher-octane fuel. Drivers seeking a higher quality fuel for their vehicle should consider using one that meets Top Tier standards, as previous AAA research found it to keep engines up to 19 times cleaner.