Why Premium Is Not Optimum; You'll Pay Much More for Higher-Grade Gas, When Regular Is Likely Just Right for Your Car

By Bull, Roger | The Florida Times Union, June 29, 2004 | Go to article overview

Why Premium Is Not Optimum; You'll Pay Much More for Higher-Grade Gas, When Regular Is Likely Just Right for Your Car


Bull, Roger, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Roger Bull, The Times-Union

The choices are always there, every time you buy gasoline. Regular, mid-grade and premium. The octanes, 87, 89 and 93.

Gas prices have dropped a little in the past few weeks, but they're still in the low $1.90s for regular. And premium is usually 20 to 30 cents above that.

So who uses premium anyway? Who pays that extra 20 cents a gallon, and is there any reason you should?

Here's the answer: Read your manual. Odds are, you don't need anything but the cheap stuff -- OK, make that the cheaper stuff -- regular gas, 87 octane.

First of all, octane is about engine knocking, the rattling or pinging sound that comes from premature ignition of the fuel-air mixture. An octane rating is the percent (87 for regular, usually 89 for mid-grade and 92 or 93 for premium) of the hydrocarbons in the gas that are the type that resist knocking. If your car requires premium, regular could make it knock. And too much knocking could damage the engine.

But the American Automobile Association estimates that only 5 percent of new vehicles in the United States require premium gasoline.

Rob Minton, Cadillac product communications manager for Cadillac, said none of the luxury automobiles he sells have used premium gas for four years.

"Back in 2000," Minton said, "they made the changes on all Cadillacs. All the Northstar engines run on regular."

Not even the beast, the 6,500-pound Hummer H1, is designed to run on premium gasoline.

"When they tune those motors, they do it to burn regular, unleaded gasoline," said Scott Garman, general sales manager with Nimnicht Chevrolet GMC Hummer on Cassat Avenue.

The only General Motors vehicle that requires premium, Garman said, is the Corvette because of its high performance engine. Everything else, including the Hummer and the biggest pickup trucks, calls for regular gasoline for their 6.0-liter, 300 horsepower engines.

"They even tell us that in the shop here," he said. …

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