The Truth About Fuel Additives & Premium Gasoline

Are Fuel Additives Worth the Money?

“Improves fuel economy by 20 percent.”

That’s a pretty enticing claim, and one you might read on a bottle of fuel additive, says the Federal Trade Commission. It’s easy to see the appeal—spend a few bucks, dump the product into your gas tank and make that money back with the gas you’ll save. But is there validity to the claim?

Adding to the complexity of the question is that “fuel savers” are just one type of additive, which we’ve all seen lining the shelves of gas stations and auto shops. Others exist to do things like clean fuel systems and injectors. “They make additives for everything,” says Jill Trotta, director of the automotive group at RepairPal.

But our fuel today already comes with lots of additives, which have been used in gasoline since the 1920s. Do our cars really need the additional help? The short answer: It depends. Here’s Trotta’s advice on some types of additives.

Fuel System Cleaners

The most common form of additive, fuel system cleaners claim to scrub carbon and other buildup from your fuel system—something Trotta says they do quite well—which can help your car’s overall performance. They’re also sometimes advertised as fighters of fuel system corrosion—a problem that some say can occur in certain cars that use fuel with a high enough level of ethanol. But Trotta dismisses this claim, saying that such rust buildup is quite rare. “It would have to be an extraordinary circumstance for that to happen,” she says.

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Fuel Injection Cleaners

A specific type of fuel system cleaner, fuel injection cleaners scrub away carbon that has built up on the fuel injectors, which can negatively impact gas mileage. This is a problem particularly common in certain cars with higher-end engines, whose overhead cam set-up can lead to more carbon accumulation. “Some models of cars build up carbon,” says Trotta. “If you don’t drive a lot on the highway, if you’re doing a lot of short trips and the engine doesn’t get hot enough to clean itself, you might want a fuel injection cleaning.”

Gas Mileage Additives

Beyond simply cleaning your fuel system, additives can promise all sorts of benefits for your engine. Additives that promise to increase gas mileage are a popular product, especially of course when gas prices rise. But the FTC’s site recommends a buyer-beware approach. “It’s a smart idea to be skeptical of any gas-saving claims for automotive devices or oil and gas additives,” says its website. Trotta agrees. “If it does make any difference,” she says, “it’s going to be minimal.”

Cooling System Additives

While most fuel additives are, at worst, harmless, Trotta warns against using engine cooling system additives that claim to plug leaks. These, she says, will only work temporarily on small leaks, will have no effect on larger leaks and could cause damage to your car’s mechanics. When you see coolant collecting on the floor of your garage, she says, you’re better off calling your mechanic than reaching for a bottle of cooling system additive.

The Bottom Line

If you’re interested in using an additive, Trotta recommends finding a mechanic you can trust and following the maintenance calendar laid out in your owner’s manual. “The people that manufacture the vehicle generally know what’s best for it,” she says.

Premium Vs. Regular Gas: What’s The Difference?

Pointing At High Gas PriceWhen you pull up to the gas station, do you really know what you’re getting by making the choice of regular or premium gas? Which one should you choose for your vehicle? Is it worth it to pay more for premium? Here are a handful of helpful facts to guide your choice at the pump:

  1. If your car does not recommend premium, you aren’t doing your vehicle any favors by getting it. Some vehicles specify “premium” gas. Engineers at auto manufacturers prescribe premium gas because certain kinds of engines operate optimally with higher-octane fuel. If your owner’s manual doesn’t call for premium gas, your vehicle doesn’t need it.
  2. If your owner’s manual does suggest premium gas, there is a reason. Cars that require premium gasoline have high-compression engines, turbo chargers and other high performance aspects. Not using premium won’t necessarily hurt your engine, but you could lose some of the performance of that premium engine you paid for.
  3. Filling up at a station with “Top Tier” gas might help you save on maintenance costs in the long run. Your car can get plaque build-up from gasoline deposits. While most gasoline today has detergent additives in it already to help keep fuel injectors and valves clean, filling up at stations with a “Top Tier” designation on the pump offers some substantial reassurance. “Top Tier” is an official designation from the Environmental Protection Agency that identifies gas meeting a minimum standard of performance and cleanliness. Premium or regular, “Top Tier” gas meets a standard of higher-percentage detergent additives.
  4. Consider your car’s weight and age when making your choice. If you have an older, heavier car, SUV or truck with high-performance engines and you are experiencing engine knock, try using premium gas for a few fills to see if that fixes the problem, even if the vehicle does not call for it.
  5. What qualifies as premium gas varies from state to state. So pay attention if you are on a cross-country road-trip or crossing state lines. One state may require a minimum octane rating of 92 to be considered premium, while another may only require 90. Gas stations generally offer three octane grades: regular (usually 87 octane), mid-grade (usually 89 octane) and premium (usually 91 or 93). Check the sticker on the pump to know which you are getting.

A good mechanic can protect your engine, but it takes great auto insurance to protect your whole car. Get a free quote from GEICO today.

Next article: 6 Hacks to Help You Save on Gas

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    Leave a comment

  1. Richard Roberts says,

    Great information for people who are not mechanically inclined. ? I regularly have my car maintained to avoid undue wear and damage or even a break-down.

  2. John says,

    Good read,in my younger days I added gas tank cleaner of some kind hoping it would do what it claimed to do.These days, I’m 72 I get brakes checked the engine tuned the transmission fluid changed the radiator flushed and the timing belt checked and the tires rotated.
    I own a 2004 Saturn View, I have the work mentioned above every few years and keep my eyes on the mileage.