If you’ve watched in dismay as gas prices have fluctuated wildly, you may have wondered about how necessary buying premium really is. Could you save a little money while still getting top performance out of your luxury car? How bad would it be to opt for regular gasoline instead?
The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, but we can present a few facts for you to consider.
The best piece of advice we can give you is to check your owner’s manual. While you can bet that most German or luxury cars require premium gasoline, that’s not always the case. Your vehicle’s manufacturer may “recommend” premium gasoline instead of requiring it, allowing you to skimp a little from time to time. Other luxury cars have been manufactured to run on regular fuel! So, it’s worth the extra time to locate that manual or look for the label behind your fuel door.
Keep in mind that if your car does require premium, it’s not a good idea to go cheap over the long term. If you do, you may experience poorer fuel economy, reduced power, and a pinging or knocking in your engine that could wear it down over time.
That said, let’s dig a little deeper.
Many people think that premium gasoline will keep their car’s engine cleaner than regular gasoline. While this isn’t necessarily true, fuel companies have done little to correct the misconception, advertising that they add special detergents to their high-priced gas. They may indeed add more detergents, but it really doesn’t matter that much! The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires all grades of gasoline to include detergent that will keep any engine running smoothly.
In reality, there is very little difference in the energy contained in regular gasoline as compared to premium gasoline. Both are rated in British Thermal Units (BTU) and contain approximately 114,000 BTU per gallon.
The only thing that sets premium gasoline apart from regular unleaded is the octane level. Premium gas isn’t cleaner or more refined – it simply has a higher octane rating. That means it contains hydrocarbons that are slightly less combustible than those in regular gasoline.
Think of it this way: You bought your luxury car in part because of its high performing engine, an engine with a high compression ratio. These engines have more power, but they’re also more susceptible to preignition or predetonation when the air and fuel mixture fire prematurely. Preignition causes that alarming pinging sound in your engine and can damages your vehicle if it keeps happening over time.
An ordinary car has an engine with a simpler design. It gets a person where he needs to go on a tank of regular gasoline. The fussier engine of a luxury car, however, needs that higher octane fuel to keep the engine purring at peak performance. Theoretically.
Here’s where it gets a little complicated: Many luxury cars have sensors in place that will reduce engine knock and prevent damage. Some experts believe that, even if you use lower quality gasoline, your engine will be just fine! Other experts, however, insist that the lower fuel efficiency cancels out any money you might save on that cheaper gasoline. As you drive you might notice a drop in fuel economy or a feeling of sluggishness on the road.
So, when it comes to buying premium vs. buying regular, the final choice is up to you. Could you go cheap from time to time? Probably. Is it ideal for a luxury or high-performance vehicle? Probably not.