The things I do for this blog in the name of personal finance.
One day last month I got into a lunchtime conversation at work with a contractor who tried to convince me he had good reasons for putting premium gasoline in his Toyota Corolla, the biggest of which was that he got better gas mileage. I found that a bit hard to believe – but more on that in a second.
For the record, Consumer Reports notes that using premium gas in an engine that is designed to run on regular does NOT improve performance.
Unlike my contractor friend, I think most people understand that premium gasoline is generally meant for use by high performance cars and the occasional Sherman tank. Still, in 2007 the market share of premium gas was almost 10 percent.
I don’t know about you but, regardless of how you calculate fuel economy, one out of every ten cars I see on the road aren’t high performance vehicles — or Sherman tanks for that matter — so anecdotal evidence suggests a lot of people still believe in the magical powers of premium gasoline.
In fact, the magical powers that allow premium gasoline to turn a Toyota Corolla into a 540-hp Shelby GT500 is eerily similar to the claims of those male enhancement drugs that promise to turn us average Joes into superhuman love machines that would make even the late great Barry White envious. I mean, just look at the evidence:
But I digress. Let me go back to the contractor who swears he gets better gas mileage.
In addition to prolonging the life of his engine, this guy swears premium gas gives him an extra three miles per gallon too. Assuming he gets 40 miles per gallon, that would result in an improvement of only 7.5 percent, which is very close to the mark-up for premium gas anyway. Fine.
So just for grins I recently completed my own month-long experiment using only premium gasoline in my 1997 Honda Civic. I already had plenty of gas mileage data using regular gas from a previous analysis I did of my new work commute. For the record, I was averaging 40 miles per gallon using regular gasoline over a roughly two month period.
The results? Well, over the past month I averaged one mpg less (39 mpg) using the premium gasoline and paid an additional $6.44 over that period for the privilege. Talk about feeling like a chump.
I’ll bet a lot of suckers people who bought those magic pills felt the same way after they finally, er, measured their results too.
The lesson here is don’t buy into the hype of thinking that just because something cost more it has to be better. Premium gasoline is intended for use on a very narrow niche of cars. If you aren’t sure what type of fuel your car should be using, check your owner’s manual.
The odds are the manufacturer probably recommends good ol’ regular 87 octane gasoline.