Everyone knows that gasoline varies in price. Even when comparing prices at the same octane level, premium brands ask for more per gallon for their gasoline. A common question often asked is whether there is a difference in quality among the brands? Do some gas stations sell superior fuel? It’s a fair question as, generally speaking, a difference in price for any good, or service, usually indicates a difference in quality. To answer this question, let’s look at some of the issues involved.
They all have the Same Base Components
The gasoline from different gas companies and filling stations comes from a common source: the “base gas” from a petroleum refinery. This gas meets a minimum set of standards and all stations start with that foundation. From there the refinery adds various compounds as required by the Environmental Protection Agency in order to reduce emissions. After that, the different gas companies — both off-brand and major brands — put their own additive packages in the gas to further boost cleaning properties. That’s the basic difference between brands: cleaning properties (and some tout “performance enhancement” too.)
Then the marketing people get to flex their muscles
The major oil companies spend millions of dollars convincing buyers that their premium price formulations are better by creating radio, TV, and internet ads touting their superiority. These ads with smiling cartoon cars, lab-coated scientists, and carbonized engine valves are designed to drive home the point. Here’s an example: “With Shell’s nitrogen-enriched gas, you won’t get a buildup of nasty gunk in your engine”, the company advertising promises, and then they show you a picture of blacked engine “gunk”. Is all this just a marketing gimmick? Well, yes and no. The Federal Trade Commission has rules about what you can say. There has to be some factual basis behind the claims but, that being said, there’s going to be some hyperbole involved too. Let’s look a little deeper.
Does the higher-priced gas really keep my engine cleaner?
As the example above illustrates, most of the higher-priced gasoline claim to have added detergents that keep your engine cleaner than fuels without them. Most of them explain that the added few pennies per fill-up will pay off in a major way down the road with reduced repair costs because of reduced “gunk”. “ Randy Stephens, the chief engineer for Toyota, isn’t wholly convinced by claims of engine protection. He says fuel experts at his company study the effects of different brands of gas on Toyota engines all the time. “Honestly, in the 10 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen one come back with any sort of deposit issue,” Stephens says. This, of course, doesn’t mean the gas companies marketing claims are outrageous. It really means the issue is likely a smaller one than they would have you believe.
Hopefully, this article will put your mind at ease. Make sure you put the proper octane level gas in your car, of course, but as for all the added ingredients in the higher-priced gas, they aren’t absolutely necessary. On the other hand, if you feel that the extra few cents of added detergent and other additives are worth it, then treat yourself. They certainly won’t hurt and who knows, if you keep your car a really long time, you might see some advantages.