I paid $4.49 per gallon this week for premium fuel. Understand, I have an almost 550-horse Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but do you really need to pump premium?
When gas prices escalate, as they certainly have in the past few weeks with the national average for a price of gallon now the highest in U.S. history and climbing, people always start to ask the question, do I REALLY have to put premium fuel in my car? It is a legitimate question, especially when you look in the owner’s manual or open your gas flap and it says in large letters, PREMIUM FUEL ONLY, what should you do?
For most people, burning premium gas is not required, but recommended. There is a reason your carmaker recommends premium, and it’s not because they are in cahoots with the oil companies. The simple facts are that testing determined your car runs at maximum efficiency on premium fuel.
Knowing that premium fuel is how your car runs most efficiently means that you will have the maximum in acceleration and top speeds. It also means your car will get the best fuel economy when running on premium. You can suffer a loss of 10% in fuel economy, or sometimes more, by dropping down to regular unleaded. Even at that, with the spread of gas prices being so large between regular and premium, you will save money running regular fuel.
Be aware that making a switch to regular fuel is not for everyone. I do not recommend it for people with high-performance engines, like my Porsche or a Corvette. I do not recommend switching if you are pulling or hauling a heavy load, and I do not recommend it for cars more than 10 years old.
Over the last decade, cars’ computers have gotten smart enough to adjust themselves to a lower octane fuel and not cause the pinging we used to have to go through. If you go from premium to regular fuel and you do get a ping, I suggest you go back to premium to be on the safe side.
I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to your car’s engine, so I don’t recommend using regular fuel if you have a supercharger. Some will say it is fine, but it makes me uncomfortable. If you are not sure what your manufacturer recommends, take a minute and look it up in your manual or look on the government’s website, www.fueleconomy.gov. You just cant assume anything with a car, the old Smart Fortwo microcar called for premium fuel in their 3-cylinder engine before they went away. Go figure.
If you are still on the fence on this subject, I recommend you fill up with a tank of premium fuel and document your starting mileage. Run the tank as near empty as you safely can, then fill up again with regular fuel and see what the fuel economy difference is and how your car performed. If the drop in fuel economy is not substantial, and the car performs well, stay with the regular, you won’t hurt a thing.
I did this with my last personal Range Rover that calls for premium fuel. It was a V8 Supercharged engine putting out 518-horses. When I put a tank full of regular fuel in it, I got a pronounced hesitation and switched back to premium.
For most drivers, switching to regular from premium is not going to substantially change your financial situation. A 15,000 mile per year driver averaging 20 miles per gallon will save $31 per month dropping premium fuel at a 50 cent per gallon higher price. That assumes no drop in the overall fuel economy. Most cars will drop a little in fuel economy, so the savings may actually be less. I have tested cars using both regular and premium fuel and have seen some that showed no drop in fuel economy.
Keep in mind that premium fuel has more ethanol than regular fuel does, and it is a fact that ethanol hurts your fuel economy. My conclusion is if your vehicle does not ping when using regular fuel, use it.
This article was updated March 8, 2022.
Photo Credit: welcomia/Shutterstock.com