Is cheap or expensive gas better for your car?

Everyone is trying to think of ways to cut their fuel bill. My girlfriend, Alli, is looking at selling her Chevy Suburban because, “it sucks down gas faster than I can fill it up to the tune of $75.00 a tank (once or twice a week)” What if Alli were to use cheaper gas,instead of the most expensive. Will it damage her car? Does using the cheapest gas hurt your engine?

According to Bob Tippee, Editor, Oil & Gas Journal, “cheap might not be a valid assumption. A good reputable company could lower their gas and be cheaper because they are trying to undercut their neighbor.”

It’s 101 degrees today at Fish’s Smog shop in Winton, CA. In the winter the Tully fog rolls into the San Joaquin Valley. Even with all the temperature variations Fish doesn’t think cheap gas vs. expensive gas will make a difference, “auto companies have knock sensors in their vehicles that will correct for problems even if you use a different octane level” Fish doesn’t think the additives that oil companies put in their gasoline make any difference, “the only place I’ve bought gasoline that hurt my engine was in Mexico.” Fish went on to remind me that there is a big difference between old cars and news cars, “the technology on the new cars is a lot different. In the late ’80s auto manufacturers started putting knock sensors in their cars, so if you have a pre-1990 car without a knock sensor you’re really going to hear the knocking.”

What is a knock sensor? A knock sensor is a device that is mounted on your engine that is designed to monitor the high-frequency vibrations caused by detonation. If you have poor engine performance “ loss of power, poor acceleration, drop in fuel economy it maybe your knock sensor is failing. When you turn off the engine you will feel a shudder, hear a ping, or knock, a couple more shudders and a long sigh. You will probably think your car is going to explode. It’s not, it’s only telling you that if you don’t want to spend the big bucks on an engine go directly to your mechanic and have them look at your knock sensor.

Bill Holbrook, spokesperson for National Petrochemicals & Refiners Association (NPRA) agrees, “if you take the octane issue out of the equation, gasoline is gasoline. I wouldn’t recommend buying gas out of the back of a pickup from a milk carton, but any gasoline station will give you good gasoline.”

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But what about those high performance vehicles, such as Porsches? Gary Fong, spokesperson for Porsche Cars North America says that Porsche does recognize a difference in gasoline on different continents. “Porsche has rated gasolines on different continents differently. Europe would have the best gasoline, North America good gasoline and other continents as poor. We have different service intervals recommendations because of this. For instance, in the United States Porsche recommends that you get a service checkup, including changing your oil, every 20,000 miles or one year. As far as octane level, Porsche has a double knock sensor that will prevent your car from being hurt, but the emissions will be different if you use a lower octane level.”

Tupper Hall, strategic communications director for Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), acknowledged that” there isn’t a nationwide gasoline, but there are specific rigid regulations for all grades of gasoline that have to be followed by the refineries. There are individual proprietary additive packages that oil companies talk about in their marketing campaigns.”

The EPA regulates the refining of gasoline, so there are industry standards. But the gasoline marketplace is a very competitive arena. As the price of gasoline rises people will become more sensitive to the price. There will be companies that feel the need to differentiate their product from their competitors. The consensus is that the cheap gasoline is just less expensive.

But when you read the bloggers there are differing opinions. I read blogs where the same car had been used with different name brands and some knocked and pinged and others got better gas mileage and better horsepower.

A lot of this is common sense. You know your car and the age of your car better than anyone. I have an older car with fuel injectors and if I don’t use a gas with fuel injector cleaning additives I buy injector cleaner and put it in myself before I fill the tank. Watch your own car, use different gas from different stations and let us know what happens with your car and the year of your car.

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About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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