AAA: U.S. Drivers Waste $2.1 Billion Annually on Premium Gasoline

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AAA testing shows no benefit to splurging on premium fuel when not required by the manufacturer

A new AAA study reveals that American drivers wasted more than $2.1 billion in the last year by using premium-grade gasoline in vehicles designed to run on regular fuel.

AAA premium fuel study

With 16.5 million U.S. drivers having used premium fuel despite the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation in the last 12 months, AAA evaluated vehicle performance, fuel economy and emissions and found no benefit to using premium gasoline in a vehicle that only requires regular-grade fuel. Currently, fewer than 20 percent of vehicles require high octane fuel.

“Drivers see the ‘premium’ name at the pump and may assume the fuel is better for their vehicle,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “AAA cautions drivers that premium gasoline is higher octane, not higher quality, and urges drivers to follow the owner’s manual recommendations for their vehicle’s fuel.”

Higher-octane gasoline is formulated to be compatible with specific high-compression engine designs, often found in performance and luxury vehicles, and is less likely to ignite prematurely than regular-grade fuel. This allows those engines to extract more power from the gasoline without suffering from performance issues like knocking or pinging.

“The AAA tests show there’s no benefit to using premium gasoline in a vehicle that requires regular fuel,” said Marie Dodds, Public Affairs Director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “So it doesn’t make sense for consumers to pay more at the pumps when they’re not getting any benefits from higher fuel grades.”

The AAA survey finds:

  • Seventy percent of U.S. drivers currently own a vehicle that requires regular gasoline, while 16 percent drive vehicles that require premium fuel. The remaining 14 percent own a vehicle that requires mid-grade gasoline (10 percent) or uses an alternative energy source (4 percent).
  • In the last 12 months, 16.5 million U.S. drivers unnecessarily used premium-grade gasoline in their vehicle at least once. On average, those that upgraded to premium gasoline did so at least once per month.
  • In the last 12 months, U.S. drivers unnecessarily used premium gasoline in their vehicle more than 270 million times.
  • AAA research found a nationwide average difference of 49.3 cents per gallon between premium and regular gasoline in the last 12 months. It is 23 percent more expensive to use premium fuel than regular gas.

AAA’s recommendations:

  • Follow the vehicle owner’s manual to determine which type of gasoline is required for your vehicle.
  • For optimal vehicle performance, AAA urges vehicle owners to keep their vehicle’s maintenance up‐to‐date by following the manufacturer’s recommended schedule.
  • 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. 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.

AAA study details:

In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA tested 87-octane (regular) and 93-octane (premium) gasoline in vehicles equipped with a V-8, V-6 or I-4 engine designed to operate on regular-grade fuel.

To evaluate the effects of using a higher-octane fuel when it’s not required by the manufacturer, each vehicle was tested on a dynamometer, which is essentially a treadmill for cars that is designed to measure horsepower, fuel economy and tailpipe emissions when using both fuel types and variety of driving conditions.

The laboratory testing found no significant increases in any tested category, indicating the practice of using premium gasoline when it’s not required for the vehicle offers no advantage.

Find the full test report and fact sheet at NewsRoom.AAA.com.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 56 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. 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.

AAA news releases, high resolution images, broadcast-quality video, fact sheets and podcasts are available on the AAA NewsRoom at NewsRoom.AAA.com.