Paying For Branded Gas Or High Octane Gas Is A Waste Of Money

If you're wondering whether it's worth paying more for branded gas, also known as Top Tier gas, from places like Chevron or Shell, the answer is no. The gas quality is similar enough where you won't notice a decline in performance. Your engine will run just fine whether you run 87 octane Chevron gas versus 87 octane no-name gas.

Paying more for branded gas and Top Tier gas (Chevron, Shell, Valero, etc) is the biggest waste of money. Branded gas often costs 30 cents to 70 cents more per gallon. That's $6 – $14 more you have to pay if you fill up 20 gallons. If your budget is tight and you want to save money, just get generic gas from Costco, Speedway, A&M and other discount gasoline stations.

list of top tier branded gas

Is Paying For Higher Octane Gas Worth IT?

If you're wondering whether paying for higher octane gas is worth the money, the answer is also no. Even if your car recommends premium gas, you don't need to pay more for higher octane gas. In general, “premium gas” means 91 octane or higher. Thanks to improvements in technology, your engine will likely operate just fine on regular gas (87 gas).

If you're really worried about driving on regular gas when premium gas is recommended, you can buy Plus gas (89 gas) or alternate between premium and regular to save money. If you're paranoid about using cheaper gas for so long, just buy a bottle of Techron on Amazon for $18 to clean the engine's fuel intake system every 5,000 – 10,000 miles. That's a much cheaper alternative.

My Experience Paying For Branded Gas And Premium Gas

When I first acquired my Range Rover Sport back in December 2016, the fuel cap clearly insisted on “premium gas.” As a result, I faithfully topped up my tank with Plus gas (89 octane), despite its approximately 25-cent higher cost per gallon compared to Regular gas (87 octane).

Given my routine of refueling about 2.5 times per month, with each visit involving roughly 25 gallons, I unwittingly ended up shelling out an extra $15.62 every month on gas. This seemingly small oversight accumulated to an unnecessary expenditure of $1,312 over the span of seven years.

Premium Gas Is Considered 91 Octane Gas

Interestingly, it came to my attention that the “premium gas recommended” for my vehicle actually meant Supreme gas (91 octane), not the 89 octane I had faithfully used. Surprisingly, my car ran smoothly without any issues for over seven years, despite my consistent use of a lower octane than officially recommended.

In October 2023, as part of a cost-cutting initiative after buying my forever house, I made the switch to 87 octane gas to save money. To my surprise, the car continued to function seamlessly.

About three months post my transition to 87 octane gas, the dreaded check engine light made its debut. Panic set in – had I jeopardized my engine with the gas switch? Fortunately, after consulting with an auto mechanic, it was determined that the check engine light resulted from a torn PVC valve and a leaky vacuum pump, unrelated to the change in gas type.

The auto mechanic also concurred that the type of gas used didn't significantly impact the situation. And if you're considering getting an extended car warranty, don't bother. It is also usually a waste of money.

Had I adhered to using premium 91 octane gas since December 2016, I would have incurred an additional 20-25 cents per gallon. Thanks to my unwitting ignorance, I saved an additional $1,000 on gas. However, had I consistently stuck to just 87 octane gas, my savings in gas costs since December 2016 would have exceeded $2,300. Oh well.

Branded Gas From Chevron And Shell Is A Waste Of Money

Beyond the intricacies of octane preferences, a more significant unnecessary expense lies in shelling out an extra 30-60 cents per gallon for branded gas from companies such as Chevron and Shell.

While these renowned brands may be considered the Gucci and Prada of gasoline, akin to luxury consumer goods, their profit margins far exceed the actual cost of the product. In the realm of gas, where the brand is inconspicuous, the premium for luxury fuel becomes a less justifiable expenditure.

Unlike a $5,000 handbag or a $20,000 watch that can be flaunted to friends, the prestige of luxury gas is elusive. The gas is literally hidden inside your tank with nobody to see or know about. If you want to show off your stuff, then the only way to do so is with your car. Just make sure to follow my 1/10th rule for car buying so you don't ruin your finances.

The Price Differential Between Non-Branded Gas And Branded Gas Is Absurd

Paying For Branded Gas Or High Octane Gas Is A Waste Of Money

Consider a local Speedway gas station on the west side of San Francisco, selling 91 octane gas at a rate 50 cents cheaper per gallon than Shell, a mere three blocks away. While Shell may have “V-Power,” a detergent-infused formula promoting engine cleanliness, the cost disparity doesn't merit paying the premium.

Ultimately, all gasoline producers must adhere to state-specified minimum requirements, assuring consumers that their choice is satisfactory. In states like California, where gasoline standards are notably high, the belief that any purchased gas is more than sufficient is reinforced. California has very high gas standards for what it allows to sell gas.

Branded Gas Or Higher Octane Gas Will Make No Difference To Your Driving Performance

Unless you're Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes, desperately seeking every advantage to beat the competition, branded gas or higher octane gas isn't going to help with your performance. The speed limit is the speed limit. If you live in a big exciting city, you can't go very fast due to all the traffic.

In addition, you will unlikely keep your car on the road for over 15 years and surpass 150,000 miles. As a result, the likelihood of a no-name gas brand causing harm to your vehicle is minimal. By then, you would have likely acquired a new car long before any potential damage could occur, if it occurs at all!

Here's another point, the longer you own your car, the less valuable it becomes. Cars face a nonstop depreciation curve. Therefore, it becomes even more wasteful to pump your car with premium gas and/or branded gas. The higher-end gas becomes a greater expense percentage of the cost of your car.

Average new vehicle price

Arguments For Using Premium Branded Gas

I'm a fair person, so let's look at the arguments for why you would want to spend more money on premium high octane gas and branded gas.

Higher octane gas is better for the motor's performance:

Cars that require higher octane gas run at higher internal compression in the motor. When you put a lower octane gas in, the fuel will combust too soon from the pressure causing engine knocking (which is bad). However, modern cars have sensors that detect this and will dynamically lower compression ratios to eliminate knocking.

Lower compression leads to less power and efficiency. Some brands (BMW for sure) have an error message that will come up warning of low octane, but this is just a ploy to get you to waste $300 going to the dealer to reset it, despite there being zero damage to the car.

You will definitely notice the difference is you are trying to accelerate aggressively with different fuel for what it is worth.

Branded gas has better additives, increases fuel economy, reduces carbon residue:

A 2016 AAA study of six separate 4,000-mile test drives found that Top Tier gas reduced intake-valve deposits by a factor of 19 compared to the generic stuff. AAA further discovered that continued use of non-Top Tier fuel could result in 2% to 4% lower fuel economy over time and hasten the likelihood of maintenance issues. Top Tier fuel can even reduce the carbon residue of loyal generic gas use on an engine by 45% to 72% over 5,000 miles.”

Thoughts on using top tier gasoline from an auto mechanic:

Owners of direct injection engines must worry the most about the amount of detergent in the fuel. 

Some brands of fuel are considered “TopTier” because they have the recommended level of detergents that a direct injection engine needs to keep the tops of the valves clean. 

Direct injection engines directly inject the fuel into the cylinder and therefore only air, positive crankcase ventilation vapors, exhaust gas recirculation, and evaporative emissions vapors, cross over the valves. This wets the valves, but doesn’t clean them like the air/fuel mixture that would pass over them in a carbureted, throttle body injected, or multipoint fuel injected, engine where the fuel acts as a solvent. 

Some brands tie their higher detergent gasoline formulations to their higher octane products, however some brands are “TopTier” regardless of the octane level. Look for “TopTier” branding.

VW’s are prone to owners not opting for “TopTier” fuels and they have issues with coking on the tops of the valves. I’ve even had a little old lady as a customer whose Tiguan’s valves were coked nearly closed and the engine was stalling. 

Most Engines Can Handle 87 Octane Gas

Generally speaking, most engine mapping systems can make use of 87 octane and will retard timing as required to minimize engine knocking on the lower octane. Depending on the severity of the timing retarding necessary, this can result in lower fuel economy and higher emissions because of more ignition cycles resulting in incomplete combustion.

Even engines that are designed to run on 87 octane can receive some benefit by running higher octane because the engine management system can take advantage of advancing the timing. However, the gains are small and not worth the added cost of the higher octane fuel. 

Using SeaFoam or Techron can help, but the issue with low-detergent fuels is that the carbon deposits are building up daily and baking onto the valves, so a cleaner can only do so much after 5,000-10,000 miles. Driving the vehicle for at least 20 minutes will also ensure that the engine reaches normal operating temperature and can reduce carbon build-up.

Ultimately, Toyota opted for a single fuel injector in their intake design and use the fuel to help clean the valves on their direct injection engines and it remains to be seen if other manufacturers will follow.

Save Money At The Pump By Getting Regular Non-Brand Name Gas

If money is tight, where you're living paycheck to paycheck, consider saving money on gas by buying 87 octane gas from a generic gas station. You won't notice the difference in regular gas versus premium gas and you'll save between 20 cents to 70 cents a gallon.

Once you've got more cash flow, you can pay for brand name gas with a higher octane if you want. You can also bottle of Techron on Amazon for less than $20 bucks to clean your fuel injectors and such if you wish. Add it into your tank every time you change your oil.

But if you want to save money, pay less for gas. Cut out extraneous expenses from your budget, like subscriptions, excess food, cable, clothing, and more.

As a personal finance expert since 2009 and founder of Financial Samurai, the #1 personal finance blog on the web, you must slash expenses and boost income if you want to build more wealth. I'm a car enthusiast who has owned 14 cars, ranging from a BMW M3 to G500. The quality of gas doesn't really matter.

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