Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Kenneth asks: What gas stations would you recommend that would be best for cars? What are some gas stations would you recommend avoiding? Are Costco gas and even Chevron (“with Techron”) gas are as good as people tend to perceive them to be? I used to just go to the local gas station, but I’m thinking about being a bit more selective to take better care of my car, which apparently requires premium gas. Thanks for your help!
My reply: The two most important things are – buying the right grade (octane) gas for your car and buying the gas from a station that is busy. Octane is a measure of a fuel’s resistance to heat and pressure – and premature (uncontrolled) ignition within the engine’s cylinders. Higher-octane fuel is more resistant heat/pressure – as in high-compression/turbo-supercharged engines. It is formulated to not burn until the spark triggers the burn. Use of lower-than-required octane in a high-compression/turbo-supercharged engine can result in premature (uncontrolled) ignition, with the force of the explosion trying to force the piston down when it is trying to come up (compression stroke), causing extreme mechanical stress on the entire reciprocating assembly. The driver may hear a “pinging” sound – which is really a kind of death rattle.
Luckily, all modern cars (those made since the late ’80s) have knock sensors and can adjust parameters such as ignition/cam timing and turbo boost to compensate, by lowering cylinder pressure. This reduces or eliminates mechanical stress and possible engine damage but you will notice the engine doesn’t perform as well; power will be down – and so will gas mileage. Hence, using lower-cost, lower-octane regular in an engine designed to burn more expensive premium will likely not save you any money – and will cost you performance.
Using higher-than-needed octane in an engine that was designed for regular won’t increase mileage or performance, either. In fact, you may see less of both – because (again) the fuel is mismatched to the engine.
Additive packages are tricker. A given brand’s “premium” – usually also high octane – will usually have the top-shelf additive package. But that doesn’t mean the regular (low octane) and mid-grade gas does not – although it may. Due diligence is required here; check into the brands you are thinking about and find out whether all their grades have the same additive packages – or not.
Some brands do tout different additive packages – e.g., Techroline – but it’s a matter of trial and error testing to see which brand you car likes best. I recommend trying a tank of Brand A – and then Brand B. Compare the mileage you got on each tank as well as whether you noticed any difference in the way the car (engine) performed/felt.
The other big thing is to avoid gas stations – regardless of brand – that don’t get a lot of traffic. You don’t want to pump old gas into your tank. And possibly, water and other contaminants along with it. Getting fresh gas is especially important given the high ethanol concentration of most “gas” sold today – which is generally at least 10 percent ethanol.
Try to buy gas from a very busy station along a major thoroughfare. The odds are good this station gets its tanks refilled frequently – so you’ll be filling your tank with fresh gas!
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