30 Ways to Save: Don't Pump Premium

Fresno driver Bill Contente cringes every time he reaches for the premium gas pump: 20 cents more than a gallon of regular. That's 4 to 5 dollars more for every tank, about 200 dollars more a year. But he says that's the price of owning a luxury car, a Porsche Cayenne: "I figure if I put a little more expensive gas in, it will cost me more now, it'll save on maintenance and wear and following the guidelines should help me keep my car in better shape for a lot longer time."

We asked him if his car really needed premium gas. A closer look at the owner's manual shows premium gas is recommended but not required. Rik Paul with Consumer Reports says, "If the owner's manual says premium is recommended you can often use regular with no problem. In some situations this slightly reduces power and fuel economy, but you might not even notice." It comes down to about a half-second slower going from 0 to 60.

Upscale luxury cars like BMW or Mercedes-Benz often call for premium. But you might be surprised. Even the Smart ForTwo, the Nissan Maxima, and most Acura models also "require" premium gas. Consumer Reports' Rik Paul says if you're using premium gas and thinking it's better for your engine, you may be wasting your money: "Most cars are designed to run on regular gas. So using premium doesn't do anything except cost you about 20 cents more per gallon."

Until about 15 years ago, if a car called for premium and you pumped in regular fuel, the car began to knock and ping and even vibrate. But now, sensors under the hood take readings as you drive and adjust the engine timing for whatever fuel you put in.

Some people used to put in a tank of premium to get 'the good stuff' to help their engines stay clean. But experts say manufacturers now put detergents in all grades. However, if the owner's manual says that premium is required or premium only, Consumer Reports suggests you should stick with that grade.

If you're in the market for a new car, Consumer Reports recommends several vehicles that not only deliver great fuel efficiency and use regular fuel, but also come at a great price. Among them: the Honda Fit, Toyota Prius, and Mazda3.


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