Major gasoline brand, and uh.. a cow

Mmm… petrol.

They’re just like milk — except for the color, taste, and uh, combustibility level. Some people love them, some people hate them. Their prices vary depending on region — and if you’re in Hawaii, they’re both ridiculously expensive.

There will always be people that will swear by a certain brand of gasoline. You probably know of a certain person that will only buy gas from Shell, and will drive that extra three miles to get to his favorite Shell station.

FACT: 99% of gasoline in the United States of America is of good quality.

Many gasolines, no matter the brand of the station, may come from the same source, refined at the same refinery, distributed through the same pipeline, and stored at the same storage terminals.

So what makes brand ABC gasoline different than brand XYZ?

The additives in the gasoline.

The funky part is that all gasoline in the United States contains additives in order to meet federal standards set by the EPA. Yes, even the ones at no-name stations.

Brand name additives are, of course, different than those in generic gasoline. Claims of special formulated additives prowess varies from one company to another, with some claiming to clean a specific engine part better, while others claiming to help your car produce less harmful byproducts to the environment.

There is no doubt that there is a difference between these additives, but just how much of a difference do these additives make?

Before you consider that question, let’s take a look at how gasoline is distributed, to better understand how additives fit into the grand scheme of things.

Just Where Does Our Gasoline Come From?

Hundreds of millions of years ago, ancient organic matters are compressed and heated through geological timescale, blah blah, viola — oil fields deep beneath the earth. People snoop around, find these oil fields, drill and pump them, then bingo — crude oil.

Mmm... commingling

1. Crude oil is imported from abroad or produced domestically. They are transported to the refineries to be refined into various products, one of which is gasoline.

2. Gasoline is then sent from the refinery storage to bulk storage terminals via tankers, barge, or a common pipeline. In the common pipeline scenario, batches of gasoline are not physically separated, thus mixing of these products from different refineries occur.

  • Yes, gasoline from a Shell refinery may mix with gasoline from a Mobil refinery.
  • Yes, sometimes you’ll be buying Shell refined gas, at a Mobil station.

3. Gasoline is stored at bulk storage terminals across the country, which usually serves various different companies. At these terminals the gasoline are then loaded into the tanker trucks. It is at this point that additives are added into the truck’s tank, differentiating one brand of gasoline to another.

  • Tanker heading to a Shell station? Load up the gasoline, and then pour in the Shell additives into the tanker. Bam. Shell gas. Tanker heading to a Chevron station? Load up the gasoline from the same terminal; add in the Chevron additives into the tanker. Ding ding. Chevron gas.
  • Just how much of these additives are added into the tank? The amount varies, but for some it’s a quart of additives for an 8,000 gallon tank.

Huh? A quart of additives in an 8,000 gallon tank? That’s all the difference?

Eh? The difference from one brand to the other happens in the tanker truck, right before it reaches the gas station?

How effective these brand name patented additives formula work will always be up to debate, but here are a few things you should consider:

  • A station’s tank quality, the tanker truck it contracts, the consistency of its many suppliers to maintain the quality in the chain of distribution affects the quality of the gasoline more so than the additives themselves.
  • Consumer Report attempted to test the differences between brand of gasoline in relation to acceleration and fuel economy, but scrapped the test because the little differences found were no more so than the differences found from other factors such as air temperature and humidity level.

What about the Grades of Gasoline?

Ah, now here’s something a bit more definitive than drops of additives in gallons of gas. There is a difference between premium (91 octane) gas and regular (87 octane) gas — BUT, not because “premium” gas is a “better” gas.

Grades of gasoline are base on octane rating, which in a nut shell, measures the resistance of gasoline to premature combustion, aka engine knocking. (Going kaboom before it should go kaboom by a spark plug).

mmm... autoignition resistances

The grades available are usually regular 87, medium 89, and premium 91.

Which of these grades should you use? Well, the answer can be easily found in your car’s owner manual (and sometimes around the gas cap area).

FACT: Using higher grade “premium” gasoline on a car designed to run with regular 87 gasoline is a waste of money.

In today’s modern fuel-injected vehicles, engines are designed to be use with specific octane rating, usually correlating an engine’s compression level to the grade of gas (higher compression level, higher octane grade).

If you car is engineered to run with an octane rating of 87, using 91 will result in no real benefit. In some instances, you may even accumulate un-burnt fuel into your emission system, which can end up collected into your catalytic converter — eventually stressing the system.

On the flip side, if your car is designed to use octane 91 gasoline, you definitely should fill the car up with 91 octane. If you happen to pump 87 or 89 into your car — don’t worry, it’s not blowing up — the onboard computer will generally dial back your engine’s performance to prevent knocking. In some cases (such as the Lexus RX 330), a car’s owner manual may even specify that you can either use 87 or 91 octane, with 87 for economy and 91 for performance.

If you have pumped 91 octane into your regular car that’s designed for 87 octane and felt an “increase” in performance, it may simply be a placebo effect — or there may be something wrong with your engine that requires a higher grade of octane.

The next time you see a teenager pumping “premium” gas into his “performance” Civic (when it’s obvious that his engine isn’t turbo nor swapped), be a friendly (& nosy) gas-pump neighbor and inform him on his wasteful spending.

If the kid informs you that he doesn’t care because he’s using his mom’s credit card to pay for the gas, you may promptly consider the alternative of battery and assault.

Summary for Lazy Readers That Hates Post with Poor Grammar

The fact of the matter is, differences between brands are less important than difference between a station dealer’s quality control with the gasoline it provides. Your best bet is to frequent a quality, reasonably priced station with a consistent supplier.

Most of us already have a station we prefer, if the price and convenience factor is right for you, and if your car is purring along fine — there is little reason to change.

But if you’re the type to drive that extra mile, or spend that extra dollar for the brand you love — try a tank or two of other cheaper branded stations, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Finally, if you haven’t done it already, pump the grade of gasoline your car’s owner manual specify and your wallet and engine will thank you.

Various Gasoline Tidbits for Savvy Consumers:

  • Gasoline is not the same type of commodity across the country. The volatility of gasoline in Los Angeles during winter will be vastly different than those of gasoline sold in Boston during winter time.
  • Different states and region have different regulations and standards concerning the quality of gasoline. Some urban area may require gasoline that are formulated to produce lower emission.
  • In rare instances, an unlucky consumer may get a bad batch of gas. It is more likely that the problem came about due to the individual station than a particular brand, as many layers of quality control checks are in placed before gasoline reaches the bulk storage terminals.

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