August 7, 2005


Prices Fuel a Rebellion (Margaret Webb Pressler, August 6, 2005, Washington Post)

For some people, it's hitting the big five-oh that really hurts -- that is, dropping $50 on a tank of gas. For others, it's just that relentless upward creep in prices that gets their attention.

Whatever the trigger, drivers pulling up to the pump in vehicles that ostensibly require high-grade gas are wondering if they really need the more expensive fuel or whether it's okay just to fill it up with regular. As gas prices soar, car owners increasingly are going for the cheaper stuff -- no matter how fancy their wheels. And station owners and oil companies are seeing the impact: Sales of premium and mid-grade gasoline are tumbling.

The likelihood that the manufacturer of their car recommends high octane rather than regular is about 0%. That they actually need it is 0%. They were being fleeced. In fact, they were helping fleece the rest of us by creating demand for a useless product when refineries could be processing more regular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 7, 2005 6:38 AM

You may be being fleeced by me buying premium but I'm not. The cost differential is only about 6% between regular and premium and my car goes noticeably farther (though not 6% farther) on premium than regular. Not having to stop for gas quite as often is well worth the extra couple of bucks per tank.

Posted by: Bret at August 8, 2005 1:40 AM


It's all in your head.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2005 8:25 AM

High compression engines need higher octane to prevent pre-ignition. My V6 Contour has a knock sensor that retards the ignition and reduces power. If I want maximum power, I need higher octane than 87 but I only use higher octane if I'm traveling in the mountains. The SVT model of my car required higher octane to get 205 HP instead of the normal 170.

Big trucks do not have high compression engines. Small sports cars do.

But then, oj, you wouldn't drive anything smaller than a Suburban with a loping pushrod V8, would you?

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 8, 2005 9:01 AM

Yes, he drives a Suburban. No, he has no idea what's under the hood. Really beefy squirrels for all he knows.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 8, 2005 12:11 PM

Mr. Judd's first claim is false. She Who Is Perfect In All Ways' car has a manufacturer that specifically recommends high octane fuel (it's a Subaru WRX with turbo – she likes road hugging cars with power).

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 8, 2005 7:01 PM

Perhaps 10% of new cars specify premium.

Dunno why, but people will insist on the myth of better mileage with premium with nearly the same fervor they do with myths about guys coming back from the dead.

Orrin's right up to the point where he says the refineries could be making more regular. So they could, but the total amount of vehicle fuel would be the same. Premium doesn't get to be premium by what's done in the cracker.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 9, 2005 3:35 AM