This Is the No. 1 Mistake Drivers Make When Filling Up

Photo by Alexandru Nika /

Each year, American drivers waste a collective $2.1 billion purchasing gas that is a little too good for them.

An AAA report from earlier this year found that these drivers pay for high-octane gas even when it is not required or recommended for their vehicle.

While you should buy premium gas if it’s required, AAA found that the added benefit generally doesn’t outweigh the higher cost when premium gas is only recommended.

At the time the report was issued, John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, said:

“There’s no question that higher-octane premium fuel has the potential to boost a vehicle’s fuel economy and performance. However, engines have to be calibrated to require that fuel to see the full benefit.”

In other words, if premium gas is recommended rather than required for your car, the vehicle can’t take full advantage of the benefits of premium gas.

So, AAA’s recommendation is to always use premium gas if it’s required, but to buy regular gas if premium gas is only recommended.

If your car makes a pinging or knocking noise on regular gas, however, you should have it checked out by an honest and qualified mechanic and probably switch to premium gas, AAA says.

Premium versus Top Tier gas

While premium gas probably does not make sense for your car, Top Tier gas might offer a benefit.

Regular, premium and Top Tier gas are three different types of fuel.

Premium gas has a higher-octane rating than regular gas, while Top Tier gas has more detergent additives than federal standards require. Research conducted by AAA last year found that Top Tier gas keeps engines up to 19 times cleaner — meaning less contamination with engine deposits.

To learn more about the benefits of Top Tier gas, check out “AAA Urges Drivers to Pay Extra for Top Tier Gas.”

Cutting your cost of gasoline

Whichever type of gas you choose, know that there are ways to cut the cost of fueling up.

One overlooked way to save is to buy discounted gift cards that you can use at your favorite fill-up station. As we have explained:

If you know exactly where you plan to fill up the tank the next few times, it’s probably worth investing in a discounted gift card for your favorite gas retailer.

Discount gift card marketplaces such as and sell gift cards for Shell, 76, BP, Chevron and other retailers for less than their face value.

For more ways to save, check out “5 Easy Ways to Cut the Rising Cost of Gas.”

What has your experience been with premium versus regular gas? Share with us by commenting below or on Facebook.

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