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Putting Regular In Your Premium Car? Think Twice; Here's Why


Gas pump with dollars

Gas pump with dollars



As we get closer to Memorial Day weekend, there’s closer focus on gas prices for the heavily-traveled holiday period.  For the moment at least, fuel flows about 25 cents cheaper per gallon than this time in 2011, according to AAA.  That’s also about the current price gap between regular and premium, give or take.  

Some drivers are doubling-down their savings.  They’ve stopped running higher-grade gas in favor of the lower-octane option.  Though as the Los Angeles Times cautions, saving a little now could come back to haunt motorists down the road.

Engine knock, characterized by a metallic pinging sound, can occur when an engine is under load and things get out of sync in the combustion chamber, with misfiring low-grade gas often the catalyst, so to speak.  It’s not a beautiful noise, and it’s not at all good for an engine’s health.      

Cars today are equipped with knock sensors to prevent or least minimize this through dynamic engine timing.  So when an engine designed to benefit from premium fuel runs on regular, the immediate driver’s seat translation can be less responsive acceleration and slightly lower gas mileage.  Some drivers, having done the math, find they still come out ahead and are willing to sacrifice some horsepower in the process.

Long-term effects are less certain.  Knock sensors, however well they function new, may not perform to the same level after tens of thousands of miles.  Less effective engine management could open the door to internal damage.

Perfect opportunity for a large-scale experiment?  Possibly.  But as Harold Schock, director of the Engines and Automotive Research Labs at Michigan State University told the Times, don’t expect it to happen.  Even the EPA isn’t about to test how a couple hundred cars fare on different types of gas, short-term and long-term.

There’s nothing stopping consumers from trying it on their own cars, though.  The consensus is to check the owner’s manual first.  There, Schock says, you’ll find “the best set of practices for...the longest life and the best performance."

If the manual suggests premium fuel is recommended, you can probably segue to the cheaper stuff without any drama.  If it reveals premium is required, you probably shouldn’t tempt matters.  

If it’s any consolation--especially to the latter crowd--the interviewed engineers agree there’s more to be saved through proper maintenance and sensible driving than cheaper gas can deliver.  Besides, a 25-cent per gallon difference on a 15-gallon fill-up only amounts to $3.75.  Something to ponder over that $6 cup of coffee.
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Comments (4)
  1. "The consensus is to check the owner’s manual first".

    Maybe the Feds should mandate that when folks buy a new car that before they drive it off the lot that they state that they have indeed read the owners manual by signing a disclaimer form ;-)
     
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  2. I say if they want to take the chance with lower horsepower, engine knock and possible engine damage....Go for it. It's their vehicle and THEIR repair bills when the time comes to repair the damage done by their "cheaper gas experiment"!
     
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  3. I will only use premium when I hear pinging under load (easily terminated by backing off the accelerator) or see subpar mileage numbers. So far, midgrade is plenty good enough for anything but an ultra high performance car, which I've never owned.
     
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  4. I read a blog a while ago where someone put 87 octane in a Lancer Evo. No damage, but it immediately turned on the check engine light. In the end if you can't afford the gas, don't buy the car. That is why I have the 2010 Camaro V6 not the V8. I used 87 octane on a 2002 Z28 and destroyed the engine. Lesson learned.
     
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