Consumer Affairs
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THE OCTANE MYTH

Don't be fuelish at the pump!

Tips on how to save money at the pump:

 

For most of us who live in Suffolk county, our automobile is an essential part of our daily routine. Keeping our car well-maintained and operating efficiently is an ongoing concern. One of the most basic chores we have is going to the gas station and "filling up" the tank. The choice of which grade of gasoline to use can, at times, be confusing. In Suffolk county, there are many different grade names for gasolines being offered for sale. The octane levels of these gasolines range from 87 to 94. In most gas stations, we have a choice of three different octane levels. In some stations, however, there are as many as six different grades offered for sale. The difference in price per gallon from the highest octane to the lowest octane is usually substantial...sometimes as much as 50 cents per gallon. The advertising claims for these various grades would have us believe that the higher the octane of the gasoline that you use in your car, the better your car will run...more efficiently, cleaner, and with more "power." These are tempting claims.

 The fact is that the overwhelming majority of cars on the road today do not need a high octane gasoline to run properly and efficiently. Octane ratings are a measure of a gasoline's ability to resist engine knock. "Knocking" or "pinging" in an engine results from an uneven burning of the fuel-air mixture. If your car is not "knocking," using a higher octane fuel will do absolutely nothing for you but waste your money. The fact is that regular unleaded gasoline, 87 octane, is the recommended fuel for most vehicles. You can determine what fuel is recommended for your vehicle by checking your owner's manual.

If you are using gasoline with an octane rating greater than 87 and your engine is not "knocking," drop down to a lower octane gasoline. If your engine begins to "knock," go back up to the next octane level. Remember, octane is nothing more than a measure of anti-knock quality...use the lowest octane fuel which provides you with knock-free operation.

Another myth is that use of a high octane fuel will improve fuel economy. The fact is that fuel economy is determined by a number of variables, including the energy content of the fuel and the condition of your vehicle, neither one of which have anything to do with the octane level of the fuel. In fact, two fuels of identical octane could have different energy content due to a difference in composition.

One last myth is that the name of the grade of fuel is an indicator of the quality or octane level of that fuel. These names should not be relied upon when you are choosing which fuel to use. The fact is that you should always choose your gasoline by checking the octane rating on the yellow sticker on the gas pump. By so doing, you will be assured that you are buying the gasoline that you want and, by using the lowest octane that still provides you with knock-free operation, you can save a significant amount of money on your gasoline purchases.

If the octane sticker is missing from the pump, or if you are concerned about the accuracy of a posted octane level, call the Bureau of Weights and Measures in the Suffolk County Executive's Office of Consumer Affairs at 853-5730 to register a complaint or get more information.