When you go to the gas station to fill up, you probably don’t even think about what type of gas you’re using. You’ve done it countless times that it’s almost like you’re on autopilot when you’re at the pump.
But if you’ve ever taken the time to look around at the different options, you’ve probably wondered why you’re using the type that you’re using. Are the other options better? Are they worse? What do the numbers mean on the buttons? What about diesel?
This article will teach you all that and more, so let’s dive in and see what type of gas you should be using.
What Does the “Octane” Rating Mean?
The octane rating on fuel is simply a measure of the fuel’s resistance to the premature detonation of the air/fuel mixture while the engine is running. Cars that use gas these days are powered by internal combustion engines. Without getting into the nitty-gritty here, this just means that fuel (typically gasoline, derived from natural gas) and air mix together and ignite (combust) inside the engine to give it power.
If this mixture of fuel and air detonates too early, it can cause what’s known as knocking, which is like a pinging or clunking sound from inside the engine that you don’t ever want to hear. The higher the fuel’s octane rating, the higher its resistance to knocking.
The octane rating of the gas can be easily found right at the gas station when you’re filling up. Ever notice those big numbers on the buttons that you push to select your fuel? Most of us just instinctively hit the one that says “87” out of habit. However, “87” is actually the octane rating of regular gas, which is what the vast majority of people use daily.
Premium vs Regular
You just read that the “87” that you’ve been hitting at the gas station is the octane rating for regular gas, but that’s not the only option you see, is it? Typically, most gas stations will have three options, while some only have two. In either case, 87 will be the lowest (regular), and then somewhere in the low-to-mid 90s (91-94), you’ll have premium gas. If there’s a third, it’s known as mid-grade and will have an octane rating usually between 88-90.
So what’s the difference between premium and regular gas and why does it matter?
As uninteresting as it may be to know about these things, it’s handy to have this basic knowledge. The only difference between premium and regular gas is the octane rating itself. As you learned above, that just means that premium gas—with its higher octane rating—is able to resist knocking or pinging more easily than regular gas. This means that combustion should occur at the right time more often and the car should theoretically perform better.
However, that only works if your car is designed to use premium gas in the first place. Keep in mind that premium gas is typically reserved for sports cars and high-end luxury cars.
What Should I Use in My Vehicle?
Using premium sounds like the obvious choice, right? It will help your engine resist knocking more and ensure that it runs better for longer, so why wouldn’t you just use premium?
The fact is you should just use whatever type of gas your vehicle’s owner’s manual recommends. Your car’s manufacturer and their engineers spent countless hours designing the car to run a certain way.
So if the owner’s manual says to use 87-octane, don’t think you’ll be “cheating the system” by using premium gas instead. It will not benefit you, and you certainly won’t be saving money at the pump! That said, if your vehicle was designed to run on the higher octane found in premium gasoline, then you’ll want to make sure you’re filling up with premium fuel every chance you get.
Let’s take a quick look at why it’s important to use the suggested octane gasoline in your car.
Using an Octane That’s Too Low or Too High
If your vehicle was designed to run on premium gas with a higher octane rating and you use regular gas, your car can run poorly and the engine can be damaged over time. In some cases, it could even void your car’s warranty. This won’t happen after one fill-up or anything, but making a habit of using gasoline with too low of an octane rating can definitely inflict expensive damage to your car.
Meanwhile, using higher octane gas in cars that don’t require it won’t typically do any damage. However, splurging on premium gas won’t do anything more than what regular gas can do for your car. Basically, you’ll just be wasting money.
The Bottom Line
By now, you probably already know what we’re gonna say, so we’ll keep it simple. Just stick to the type of gas that your vehicle manufacturer recommends. If your car was designed for regular gas, you likely won’t get any benefit from using premium. If you should be using premium gas in your car, don’t regularly opt for lower-octane gasoline, as it can lead to problems down the road.
When in doubt, check the owner’s manual!
Frequently Asked Questions
Does “Treating” My Car to Higher Octane Help it Perform Better?
You might’ve heard about the notion of people occasionally putting higher octane gas in their car to help it perform better. There’s simply no factual basis for that claim. There are no benefits from adding premium gas to a vehicle that’s designed to run on regular gas.
But if your car is designed to run on premium gas, then you might notice an uptick in performance if you add the higher octane next time you go to fill up. We always recommend putting in the type of gas that the vehicle manufacturer recommends.
What About Diesel? Is That Something Entirely Different?
Yes! If you’re trying to decide which type of gas to put in your car, don’t add diesel to the list of options. In fact, diesel is not considered “gas” in the natural sense because it’s not even gasoline.
That’s why you’ll typically hear it referred to as diesel fuel rather than diesel gas. It is a totally different type of fuel and one that you do not want to mix up and add to your car, thinking it will run better. Only put diesel fuel in diesel vehicles that were designed strictly for use with diesel