Don’t Be Fueled: Premium Not Always Worth the Price

AAA tests show premium fuel benefits some vehicles, but comes at a high cost

12/12/17
Fuel

According to new research from AAA, premium gasoline offers some benefit to select vehicles, but is too expensive for most drivers to reap any benefits.

While past AAA research has shown no benefit in using premium gasoline in a vehicle designed to operate on regular fuel, new testing indicates that some vehicles – those that recommend, but do not require premium gasoline – may see increased fuel economy and performance under certain driving conditions when using the higher-octane gasoline.

But the high cost of premium gasoline may outweigh that advantage for many drivers. In the last five years, the price difference between regular and premium fuel has been steadily increasing, rising to more than 50 cents per gallon based on the national average price of gasoline. As a result, AAA recommends drivers weigh the potential benefits against the cost of using premium gasoline if their vehicle does not require it.

“Our testing reveals that drivers could see modest gains in fuel economy and performance when opting for premium gasoline in vehicles that recommend, but do not require, the higher-octane fuel,” said Michelle Donati, spokesperson for AAA Arizona. “Those seeking the maximum capabilities of their performance-focused or utility vehicle may see some benefit from using premium gasoline, particularly over the long haul.”

In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA tested a variety of vehicles that recommend, but do not require, the use of premium (91 octane or higher) gasoline. A combination of laboratory and on-road tests were performed to simulate extreme driving scenarios such as towing, hauling cargo and aggressive acceleration. When using premium fuel in these vehicles under these conditions, AAA tests found that:

  • Fuel economy improved by an average of 2.7 percent. Individual vehicle test result averages ranged from a decrease of 1 percent (2016 Audi A3) to an improvement of 7.1 percent (2016 Cadillac Escalade).
     

  • Horsepower increased by an average of 1.4 percent. Individual vehicle test result averages ranged from a decrease of 0.3 percent (2016 Jeep Renegade) to an improvement of 3.2 percent (2017 Ford Mustang).

 

“There’s no question that higher-octane premium fuel has the potential to boost a vehicle’s fuel economy and performance, however, engines have to be calibrated to require that fuel to see the full benefit,” Donati said. “Based on our testing, vehicles that only recommend premium gasoline can’t take full advantage of higher octane fuel and, as a result, the benefit that comes from upgrading to premium gasoline may not offset its high cost.”

Depending on the make and model of the vehicle, a driver could expect to spend up to an additional $350 per year using premium gasoline in a vehicle that recommends, but does not require, its use.

Last year, nearly 1.5 million new vehicles sold in the United States recommend, but do not require, premium gasoline. The trend toward recommending or requiring higher-octane fuel continues to rise as manufacturers work toward meeting stringent CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards.

AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers since it was founded more than 100 years ago.