AAA: Pricey Premium Doesn’t Always Result in Better Vehicle Performance

New study shows premium fuel may not be worth extra cost

PORTLAND, Ore., – New research from AAA shows that premium gasoline may offer some benefits to select vehicles but may not be worth the extra cost. The testing shows that using premium fuel in vehicles that recommend, but do not require premium fuel, may result in only slightly better fuel economy and performance under certain driving conditions when using the higher-octane fuel.

Unfortunately, the high cost of premium fuel may outweigh the benefits for many drivers. In recent years, the price gap between premium and regular-grade gasoline has risen from 10 percent to 25 percent or more per gallon. Currently, the price difference between regular and premium gasoline is approximately 50 cents per gallon. The current national average for regular fuel is $2.46 per gallon compared to $3.00 for premium. In Oregon, the current statewide average for regular is $2.80 compared to $3.14 for premium.

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“For many consumers, the small improvements in fuel economy and performance found in AAA tests do not offset the higher cost of premium gasoline. AAA suggests drivers opt for the lower-priced regular fuel for vehicles that don’t require premium gas,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Based on AAA’s testing, vehicles that only recommend premium gasoline can’t take full advantage of higher octane fuel and, as a result, the benefit that comes from upgrading to premium gasoline may not offset its high cost.”

AAA says drivers who want the maximum capabilities of their performance- or utility-focused vehicles may see some benefit from using premium gas. 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.

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In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, 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 extreme driving 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).
AAA Testing showed the 2016 Audi A3 had a one percent decrease in fuel economy with premium fuel.

AAA Testing showed the 2016 Audi A3 had a one percent decrease in fuel economy with premium fuel.

The 2016 Cadillac Escalade had a 7.1 percent improvement in fuel economy with premium fuel.

The 2016 Cadillac Escalade had a 7.1 percent improvement in fuel economy with premium fuel.

Horsepower for the 2016 Jeep Renegade decreased 0.3 percent with premium fuel.

Horsepower for the 2016 Jeep Renegade decreased 0.3 percent with premium fuel.

Horsepower for the 2016 Ford Mustange increased 3.2 percent with premium fuel.

Horsepower for the 2017 Ford Mustange increased 3.2 percent with premium fuel.

A 2016 AAA study found that there’s no benefit in using premium gasoline in a vehicle designed to operate on regular fuel, and that consumers wasted nearly $2.1 billion fueling these vehicles with higher-octane gasoline. Higher-octane premium fuel has the potential to boost a vehicle’s fuel economy and performance, however, engines have to be calibrated to require that fuel to see the full benefit. 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.

Last year, nearly 1.5 million new vehicles sold in the U.S. 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. AAA urges drivers who use premium gasoline to shop around for the best price, as it can vary dramatically between gas stations. The AAA Mobile app, available for iPhone, iPad and Android, can help drivers find the cheapest premium gasoline near them.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 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.

Find current fuel prices at GasPrices.AAA.com.

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