Premium Fuel Recommended: What do you use?

Premium fuel is required or at least recommended on a lot of today’s higher-performance cars and trucks, and yet it seems that every week I’m running into someone who puts mid-grade or regular gasoline in their car, even though it specifically says it requires premium.  Read on for my thoughts on the subject, and some simple math.

A lot of drivers these days are filling their tanks with “regular” gasoline, even if the car requires premium.  As we saw earlier, Cadillac tried to prepare its new SRX for that, but didn’t succeed, at least not initially.  After seeing that, I suspect a few more people will start using the fuel required for their car.

The big argument people have when I ask why they use lower octane fuel, is cost.  They will tell me they’re just trying to save some money.  Well, I have news for them, and anyone else who wants to “save a few bucks” on gas: you’re not saving much, if anything, and all that cheaper gas can lead to premature engine wear and failure!  Remember when reading the numbers below that new engines typically run in the thousands, anywhere from $2,500 to $12,000, depending on the vehicle.

Let’s take a look at the big picture.  Besides the Smart ForTwo, I can’t think of any other inexpensive car that requires premium.  Perhaps the Mini Cooper, but that car starts at $20k for a stripped base model.  Add a few options to it, and you’re getting close to the $30k mark.  Basically, cars that require premium fuel generally cost more, and if you can afford the car payment, gassing up shouldn’t be an issue either.  Even if you buy a used luxury car that retailed new for $50-60,000, you still have to keep up with the maintenance (another thing a lot of people forget about when shopping for a car).

Breaking down the supposed savings, the average difference between regular gas and premium is around $.30, depending on where you live.  Here in the Washington, D.C. Metro area, regular gas is about $2.85 and premium is around $3.10, per gallon.  that’s only $.25, but we’ll round up, taking into account a fuel price spike.

If your car gets 20mpg average (combined city/highway), and you drive 20,000 miles a year, which is more than average, you’ll use 1,000 gallons of fuel per year.  At a difference of $.30 per gallon, you’ll spend $300 more per year on premium than you would have on regular.  That’s less than the average car payment, and broken down, it’s about $5.00 per week.  That’s one cup of coffee at Starbucks, per week, and you can afford that premium gas your car says it requires.

As an example, my own 2010 Nissan Maxima was certified by the EPA to get 18 mpg in the city, and 26 mpg on the highway.  It also says in the owner’s manual (right) that 91+ octane fuel, also known as “Premium Unleaded” at the gas pump, is recommended for maximum performance.  The sticker price for my Maxima was close to $40,000, so if I drive 100,000 miles over 5 years, that still only adds up to about $1,500 of extra fuel costs, maybe closer to $2,000 if the price of gas increases (and it assuredly will).  So, up to 5% of the sticker price of the car could be spent on premium fuel versus regular – that’s a no-brainer to me.

In the end, the choice is of course up to you, but I recommend you use whatever fuel the manufacturer recommends or requires.  It just isn’t worth the headache of needing expensive repairs, is it?

by John Suit

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5 Responses to “Premium Fuel Recommended: What do you use?”


  • Just bought a 2012 Nissan maxima S and am debating whether to use premium 91 gas. Thought I researched the car pretty well but missed on the fact premium was “recommended” after i read the manual and of course the dealer and salesman never mentioned it. Go with the 91 premium or the cheap gas? Anyone?

  • I am a big proponent of using whichever octane rating is recommended or required by the manufacturer. At 15,000 miles per year of driving, it’s a marginal difference between using regular fuel and premium. For more information, see my article here: http://www.road-reality.com/2010/07/01/premium-fuel-recommended-what-do-you-use/

    -John

  • Nissan Maxima does not require premium unleaded gasoline for the car, it simply recommends its use. I used regular on my ’04 Maxima w/o any problem, and am doing so with my ’10 Maxima. Here’s why:

    “There is no magic to higher octane! There is no more detergent! There is less energy in higher octane! Higher octane of and by itself does not give better performance! Higher octane does not necessarily deliver higher miles per gallon! Higher octane fuels simply burn more slowly than lower octane fuels.

    “Slower burning speed allows manufacturers to design “High-octane-specific engines” which should only be run on the specified octane. . . My suggestion would be to try a tank of 87 then a tank of 93 (specifically in that order) and see if you can feel any difference or measure any difference in fuel economy. If you can’t — use 87 octane as your regular fuel.

    “If you do feel a difference or if the higher octane delivers better fuel economy (I seriously doubt that) then use the higher octane. That is if the difference is enough to offset the tremendous difference in price. I think you’ll find that 87 is your best bet.

    “By the way, if there is no measurable difference in economy or performance your engine will stay cleaner using the lower (not the higher) octane fuel.”

    FYI, the same goes for Nissan’s recommended use of it’s proprietary Nissan ester oil. Here is the official response from Nissan North America:

    “In regards to your oil inquiry, as you had previously referenced from the 2010 Maxima Owner’s Manual, “Nissan recommends the use of an energy conserving oil in order to improve fuel economy. Select only engine oils that meet the American Petroleum Institute (API) certification or International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) certification and SAE viscosity standard. These oils have the API certification mark on the front of the container. Oils which do not have the specified quality label should not be used as they could cause engine damage.

    “The above referenced information is a recommendation, not a requirement. The engine oil viscosity or thickness changes with temperature choosing an oil viscosity other than that recommended could cause serious engine damage. If damage is caused to the engine due to using a viscosity which is not recommended, this would not be considered a warrantable failure, and I (sic) turn would not be covered.

    /s/ Nissan North America
    Nissan Consumer Affairs”

    In both instances – gasoline and oil – the key word is “recommended” – and is differentiated from “required,” which is mandatory.

  • Nissan Primera – P 11 1992 MODEL ( QG18 DE engine )
    Folks, Premium gas here in Trinidad & Tobago has just been increased by 44%. I am now trying to establish what is the recommended gas for the above. Can anyone please assist. A print from the Owner’s manual will certainly help to clear things up.

    Danny

  • While traveling in Albania, I learned they cut the gasoline they purchase with a mixture of sugar, grain alcohol and piss. That’s right….plain, old piss ! Albania is dirt poor and the cost of one liter of gasoline is about $ (U.S.)6.50. That’s roughly $ 25.00 per U.S. gallon ! Most people can not afford the expensive price of fuel for their cars, so they have come up with an ingenious substitute, that seems to work rather well. They all drive tiny cars with few luxury features and drive only for necessity. They buy one liter of regular gasoline and cut in by one half. In each half liter portion, they add 1 teaspoon of refined table sugar (boosts octane),one cup of grain alcohol (use high prof vodka if grain alcohol is not available), and one half cup urine….BINGO ! They turned one liter onto two and the stuff really works ! While not practical for the U.S. or Western Europe and other industrialized countries, mother is the necessity of invention. Try it !

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