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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

Newer cars benefit, he said. Dos Santos said he treats his car to high-octane, high-detergent gas every two or three fill-ups and the results are noticeable.

Pete Cenzano, owner of Cenzo Car Care in Margate, said he too uses high octane gas once in a while to help clean out the carbon in his cars. Premium gas gets better gas mileage, he said, which consumers can test for themselves with their tripometers. For some cars, the improved mileage helps offset the higher price for premium gas, he said.

Cenzano says he’ll recommend using high-octane primarily for cars 10 years old and older to address knocking and pinging caused by carbon buildup, and sometimes worsened by gradual deterioration of the cars’ emission systems.

What about pumping regular when manufacturers call for premium?

High gas prices can also tempt those who own vehicles in which high-octane gas is either required or recommended to opt for cheaper 87-octane.

Many of those are performance or luxury cars with highly tuned engines that need that extra octane to run at peak levels. But more and more “ordinary cars and crossover SUVs” require premium, Forbes reported in 2020, “due largely to more widespread use of higher-compression turbocharged engines for the sake of added power without sacrificing fuel economy.”


They include models of Buick Envision, Honda Civic and Chevrolet Malibu with turbocharged engines, and all models of Nissan Maxima, Kia Stinger, MINI Cooper, and Volkswagen Arteon.

Experts say that if a manufacturer merely “recommends” premium fuel for a particular model, then it should be perfectly fine to use regular, as the car’s computer will notice and adjust to the lower octane. But if a driver notices knocking and pinging, then use of higher-octane fuel should be resumed.

If the manufacturer states that if premium fuel is required, then drivers should beware of downgrading to regular for any extended length of time. Using regular in a pinch — if, say, there’s no premium gas available — shouldn’t hurt the engine.

But cars that require premium are more likely to knock and ping when fed lower-octane gas. On the highway especially, the misfiring will lead to carbon buildup, Cenzano said.

According to the car enthusiast website, “this phenomenon isn’t typically harmful to your engine if it happens occasionally, but repeated engine knock can speed up wear and tear.”

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