Not all gas is created equal: how does yours measure up?

July 7, 2016

Despite today's low fuel prices, the cost of gas is still a concern for most motorists. Many are drawn to less expensive fuel available at convenience stores and supermarkets, but will the money they save today cost them big bucks down the line?

According to AAA, the answer could be "yes".  

AAA hired an independent lab to test a range of gasolines over 4,000 miles of simulated driving. The results show that gas containing the added detergents necessary for TOP TIER designation left up to 19 times fewer engine deposits than other gasoline brands. Over time, such deposits can lead to serious performance problems.

TOP TIER standards were instituted in 2004, when BMW, General Motors, Honda, and Toyota said that the gasoline detergent levels required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weren't high enough to ensure proper performance in modern engines. Like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, gasoline manufacturers and retailers don't have to apply for TOP TIER status, but there's a certain prestige in being able to boast about certification. (For more info about that, watch the video embedded above.)

Bad news, good news

Unfortunately, a separate, consumer-focused study carried out by AAA shows that most consumers don't understand the importance of using gas containing added detergents. After polling more than 1,000 U.S. adults, here's what the study found:

  • Three-quarters of U.S. drivers choose a gas station based on location (75 percent) or price (73 percent).
  • Nearly one-third (29 percent) of U.S drivers choose a gas station based on a rewards program.
  • Only 12 percent of U.S. drivers select a gas station based on whether the gasoline contains an enhanced detergent package.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of U.S. drivers do not regularly buy gasoline that contains an enhanced detergent additive.
  • Men (44 percent) are more likely than women (26 percent) to regularly buy a gasoline that contains an enhanced detergent package, as are baby boomers (41 percent) compared to millennials (32 percent).

The good news is, TOP TIER gasolines are widely available. They're found at 46 major U.S. retailers and are often marked by the TOP TIER logo. From 76 to Valero, you'll find a complete list of retail outlets here.

Better still, AAA says that TOP TIER gas isn't expensive, costing an average of three cents more per gallon than the "cheap gas" that consumers find so alluring. 

Best of all, if you're not using TOP TIER gas now, you can undo some of the damage done to your engine. According to AAA's Greg Brannon, "After a few thousand miles with TOP TIER gasoline, performance issues like rough idling or hesitation during acceleration can often be resolved."
Do you regularly use TOP TIER gas? If not, do you try to compensate by using an add-in cleaner? Or is this the sort of thing that really doesn't worry you? Sound off in the comments below.
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