skip to Main Content

Media post: Is Cheap Gas Bad for Your Car?

Gasoline is expensive and if you’re like most people, you’re looking at every possible way to save money at the pump. First, you know that your car doesn’t need expensive premium fuel because it doesn’t have a high compression engine. So, you got that added expense covered. But what about saving money by filling up with cheap gas? You know the non-branded gas from those small, independent stations. Is that stuff safe to put in your tank? After all, you paid a lot of money for your new car, what’s a few extra pennies per gallon if it protects your investment?

The differences between gasoline brands

The first thing you should know is that the fuel from different filling stations all comes from a common source: a “Base Mix” from all the major oil refineries. This Base Mix contains a mixture of hydrocarbon fluids distilled from crude oil and additives mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The additives are primarily for reducing emissions although some are to keep internal combustion engines clean.

Once the base mix is formulated, the different gas companies put in their own additive packages to further boost cleaning and performance. At that point, the gasoline is shipped to their branded gas stations. So, back to our original question: are the top-tier branded gasolines worth the added expense?

Today’s cars are run by computers

All cars today have onboard computers that adjust engine timing and other operational parameters while you drive. Our technical consultant at, a Chrysler dealer in Edgewood, MD, explained to us that this means that minor variations between octane ratings and other variations in fuel, can be adjusted out so most drivers won’t notice any change in performance.  This is unlike the old days when the performance of an engine was dictated by physical design. Today’s engines are less sensitive to fuel variations so top-tier fuels are probably not needed for performance issues.

Are more additives needed?

On the other hand, some automakers and oil companies believe that the type and amount of government-required additives isn’t enough to thoroughly protect engines. As a result, many oil companies have created plenty of advertising claims to justify their top-tier pricing.

Take Shell, for example. Shell’s ads feature smiling cartoon cars, lab-coated nerds and gunk-covered engine valves. And they insist that their nitrogen-enhanced gas will prevent any buildup of “gunk” inside your engine.

However, Randy Stephens, the chief engineer for Toyota’s Avalon sedans, isn’t convinced by the claims of engine protection afforded by top-tier gas. He says he has had engineers disassemble engines after 10,000 miles of running them on different brands of gas to see if there is a difference. The results: there aren’t any differences regardless of what the gas companies tell us.

In Conclusion

Despite the fact that most studies show that high-priced, top-tier gas formulations are unnecessary, some consumers will spend a few extra pennies per gallon because it buys peace of mind. Frankly, if that works for them, there’s no problem doing it. For all the sceptics out there, however, there is plenty of evidence that says buy the cheapest gas you can find and you’ll never know the difference.

Leave a Reply

Back To Top