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The truth about octane: Does it really make a difference if you pump regular or premium?

Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in Automotive News

With the price of regular unleaded gasoline still in the $4-a-gallon range, the comparative price of premium is kind of a bargain at many stations.


When the price of regular surged this spring, the percentage difference between regular and premium at many stations actually narrowed — most likely so drivers will keep buying premium.

Why does that make premium a “bargain”? Well, if $3.19-a-gallon premium was 39% more than regular at $2.29 in October 2020, as reported in Miramar, and premium was at $4.79 in April 2021 — 14% more than the $4.19 price for regular, that makes premium relatively cheaper than before. Woo-hoo. Happy days are here again.

So treat your car to a tankful of premium once in awhile, local mechanics say.

Yeah, yeah, most vehicle manuals say you only need 87 octane unless you drive a luxury or performance car. And plenty of expert sources like AAA and Consumer Reports have long said that you’re wasting your money if you pump premium.


But drivers say they can feel a difference, especially when driving older cars in hot South Florida weather. That’s when knocking and pinging gets louder and acceleration seems to struggle.

David dos Santos, owner of Japanese Auto Care Specialists in Margate, Florida, says knocking and pinging is a result of carbon and other byproducts left by cheap lower-octane gas, which he says burns less efficiently than higher-octane gas.

He recommends that his customers step up to 93 octane premium every five or six fill ups, even if their car is designed for 87 octane.

He also advises using a high-quality brand with a level of detergent additives above the minimum standard required by the state. Dos Santos said he only uses Shell or Chevron, but many brands are certified as selling a superior blend approved by car manufacturers called Top Tier. Those gasoline brands are identified at the website


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