The controversy over premium gas

Sarah Gardner Mar 15, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: Yesterday we told you the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.81. Well guess what? Now it’s $3.82.

And as you may have heard, we spoke with a mechanic here in Los Angeles named Rebekah Fleischaker about some fuel efficiency tips. One of the things she said was that using premium gas would get you better mileage in the long run.

Well, many of you wrote to tell us you disagreed with that advice. So we sent Marketplace’s Sarah Gardner out to do a little fact checking.

Sarah Gardner: Took me less than two minutes to find somebody filling up with premium. The first driver said her little BMW required premium gas, so she had to pay the $4.56 per gallon price tag. Same story from Dale Ingram, who pulled in minutes later in his 2002 Porsche.

Dale Ingram: So yeah, we’re at $69 for 15 gallons of gas.  It’s getting kind of crazy. I’m still kind of going, oh boy, am I really doing this?

But Consumer Reports’ Jeff Bartlett says if your owner’s manual doesn’t say your car requires premium, even if it recommends premium, don’t waste the 20 cents per gallon extra.

Jeff Bartlett: Premium gasoline has some theoretical benefits, but in the real world and in Consumer Reports testing, we haven’t seen that played out. 

Benefits like more horsepower, less wear on your engine or better mileage.

Bartlett: After all, manufacturers are spending millions of dollars to eke out just one or two more miles per gallon for their vehicles. If all they had to do was tell you to choose a different nozzle at the gas station, they would. 

But a lot of drivers in everyday cars still believe in the power of premium. The driver of a beat-up ’94 Chrysler minivan insisted to me her van shifts gears more easily because of it. But at today’s prices, she’s sticking with regular.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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