Video: Should you buy premium gas?

By George Lewis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/20/2005 7:38:45 PM ET 2005-05-20T23:38:45

It's one of the questions motorists ask most frequently: What octane gas should I burn in my car? If you're confused about those octane numbers at gas stations, you're not alone.

"It seems like the more money it costs, the better it would be," says one driver.

There was a time, half a century ago, when gas was cheap and many cars had big V8 engines that required premium gas. Back in the 1950s, oil companies claimed that cars on premium would run better and with more power. Today, many motorists still believe that.

But Steve Mazor, chief automotive engineer for the Auto Club of Southern California, says the vast majority of today's cars — 94 percent — are designed to run on regular.

"It's a very common myth that higher octane fuel leads to better performance," says Mazor. "It just isn't true."

And it isn't true that today's cars run more cleanly on premium. However, if you drive a luxury or high-performance car, it may need premium to prevent engine pinging or knocking, something that could cause problems down the road.

"I hate paying more for premium, but I'm concerned that it may damage the engine if I don't," says another driver.

About 13 million passenger cars in this country require premium gas. But the owners of 22 million cars are using it, meaning that nine million cars are getting higher octane than they need.

"You put premium gas in a car that requires regular, the only thing you are doing is wasting your money," says Mazor.

How much money? 

Right now, the average difference between regular and premium is 12 cents a gallon.

The experts say to follow the recommendations in your car's owners' manual because these days, the only thing you want to burn in your car is gas, not money.

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