Valerie Vinyard

People who fill up their gas tanks with premium fuel even though the owner’s manual calls for regular octane are throwing away money. In fact, American drivers wasted $2.1 billion dollars in the last year by using premium-grade gasoline in vehicles designed to run on regular fuel, according to a new AAA study.

“Drivers see the ‘premium’ name at the pump and may assume the fuel is better for their vehicle,” said John Walter, director of automotive repair and fleet operations for AAA Arizona. “Premium gasoline is higher octane, not higher quality. There isn’t a benefit to giving your vehicle a higher octane gas than what the owner’s manual recommends.”

In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA tested 87-octane (regular) and 93-octane (premium) gasoline in vehicles designed to operate on regular-grade fuel. Each vehicle was tested on a dynamometer, which is essentially a treadmill for cars that is designed to measure horsepower, fuel economy and tailpipe emissions when using both fuel types and variety of driving conditions. The testing found no significant increases in any category, indicating there is no advantage to using premium gasoline when it’s not required for the vehicle. 

“Premium gasoline is specifically formulated to be compatible with specific types of engine designs, and most vehicles cannot take advantage of the higher octane rating,” Walter said. “Drivers looking to upgrade to a higher quality fuel for their vehicle should save their money and select a top tier™ gasoline, not a higher-octane one.”

To understand the magnitude of the issue, AAA also surveyed U.S. drivers to understand what type of fuel their vehicles require and the frequency at which they upgrade to premium fuel. Results reveal:

Only 16 percent of U.S. drivers own a vehicle that requires premium fuel. The majority (70 percent) of drivers own a vehicle that requires regular gasoline. The remaining 14 percent own a vehicle that requires mid-grade gasoline (10 percent) or uses an alternative energy source (4 percent).

In the last year, 16.5 million U.S. drivers unnecessarily used premium-grade gasoline in their vehicle at least once. On average, those that upgraded to premium gasoline did so at least once per month.

In the last year, U.S. drivers unnecessarily used premium gasoline in their vehicle more than 270 million times.

Previous AAA research found that fuel quality varies significantly among gasoline retailers and that using a gasoline that meets TOP TIER standards can result in 19 times fewer engine deposits, increase vehicle performance and improve fuel economy. 


AAA is a go-to source for automotive information. Visit for more information.


Valerie Vinyard is a public affairs specialist for AAA Arizona. Contact her at or at 520-258-0518.

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