A quick way to save 20 to 40 or more cents per gallon at the gas station is to stop pumping premium gasoline and switch to a regular grade. But how will you know if the switch is safe or if it will damage the engine in your vehicle?
Most of us have little idea what those numbers on the pump mean, so we usually just pick one that seems to correlate best to our stage in life. Let’s clarify what octane levels actually are and what they mean for your car. If you are wondering whether high octane fuel equals better fuel economy, you first need an understanding of how fuel interacts with your engine.
Octane actually has two definitions. In its simplest sense, octane is the name of a chemical compound. This flammable hydrocarbon, in combination with several others, is what makes gasoline. When ignited, it powers your car’s engine. The second definition of octane refers to the amount of energy required to ignite the gasoline. These octane level numbers (87, 89, 91, etc.) are a percentage of the fuel’s performance measured against pure (100%) octane.
High octane fuel may prevent engine knock, which is a useful quality in a fuel. This is why luxury cars that use higher-pressure engines sometimes require premium gasoline. Higher octane gasoline reduces knocks and pings in high-pressure environments which exert more energy and burn fuel quicker. If your car manual doesn’t require you to use high octane fuel, using it anyway probably won’t help. Stick with the type of fuel that best suits your car’s engine requirements.
Good question. Your car’s owner manual will recommend the fuel you should be using for best performance, and that’s the type to go with. If your manual says unleaded (87) is enough, then it is. If it advises premium (usually 91), then heed its advice.
First, get your car serviced regularly. If your engine isn’t in good repair, you can waste fuel. The same holds true if your tires are underinflated, which can reduce fuel efficiency up to 0.3% for every pound of pressure dropped in all four tires, says fueleconomy.gov. And, just as you should use the recommended fuel octane level of your manufacturer, you should also use the right grade of motor oil. Doing so can definitely make your fuel go farther.
Second, lighten your load wherever possible. Remove your roof storage rack whenever you aren’t hauling anything, and don’t leave unused cargo sitting there. It adds significant weight to your car, which means you need to burn more gas to go the same distance. You should also regularly clean out your trunk or back cargo area for the same reason.
Third, avoid idling while waiting for long periods of time. Although it may seem easier to leave the car running, this wastes a lot of gas, especially if you have the air conditioner on too. When possible, open the window to cool off. And on the highway, use cruise control when possible. By keeping your speed even, you avoid accelerating and decelerating and save fuel.
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