Consider these fine testimonials from reputable gas companies…
Chevron: “Chevron®, Texaco® and Caltex® fuels contain our Techron additive, which cleans the engine and helps deliver lower emissions and better performance.”
Exxon: “We offer gasolines in three octane grades developed on a molecular level to clean up intake valves and keep vital engine parts clean.”
Arco: “Straight up quality. Straight up value. Straight up gas.”
If you were asked about your gasoline brand loyalty right now, i.e. what gas station you’ll use when filling up after work, I would assume that the majority of us would answer with “Whatever is the cheapest.” And that would be the end of it. But let’s go a little deeper. What is the actual difference between gasoline brands, if any, and how big of a difference can there be?
Is One Gas Station Really Better Than The Other?
You’re probably expecting a typical answer like There is no difference in gas. First, don’t be an assumptive smartass. And second, it actually does go further than that. The short answer is yes. No. Well, not exactly yes or no, but probably…maybe.
Actually, scratch all that. Let’s just start at the genesis of where brands get their gas. Crude oil is sent to a refinery to be turned into a usable product for all of us slobs. You can find your nearest refinery here. Once a refinery has done their thing, gasoline is then shipped in the most productive manner, be that pipeline, supertanker, donkeys, etc. It just depends on where in the world it’s headed.
But to be more cost effective, many brands will actually share the same transportation tubes for gas delivery, meaning individually branded stations within a certain area will use gas from the same terminal their competition uses. So it all starts out as the same product. But, it’s what happens after the gas gets to any given brand that makes the difference. And the difference is gasoline detergent additives. This is what makes a branded gasoline. The EPA requires a minimum additive standard for any gas sold by any brand, so you’re never going to get a toxic sludge that’ll kill your car. But the level of additives can fluctuate, and this is why some people swear brand X is better than brand Y, and some say it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that there is a difference, so on we go.
It’s All About The Additives
Alright, so how does an additive, or detergent, help gas? Many brands, like Exxon, Shell, Chevron, etc., pride themselves on adhering to and selling what is termed a Top Tier gasoline, meaning their product contains higher levels of additives than what the current EPA detergent requirements suggest. In other words, according to toptiergas.com, “Top Tier gasoline contains “higher level(s) of deposit control performance,” so brands that use Top Tier have a gasoline that helps keep your vehicle’s engine cleaner than brands that do not use Top Tier gas.
The stated benefits of a cleaner engine are important: better fuel economy, lower emissions, and healthier performance. And brands definitely want you to know about their additives. Chevron (& Texaco & Caltex), for example, dubbed theirs Techron- I’m sure you’ve heard of it. OK, so where is a full list of brands that use Top Tier gasoline? Here you go. As you can see, many, if not most of the stations you use in your hometown are on the list. No, there’s no need to thank me for helping you sleep better tonight.
What About Non-Top Tier Gas?
Arco, a brand many people recognize as being universally cheaper than most, is not on the Top Tier list. Does Arco’s cheaper price have something to do with the quality of their product? Well, Arco states that their ethanol-blended gasoline will reduce fuel economy by 2-4% compared to non-oxygenated fuels. But that’s due to the ethanol content and Arco is quick to point out that they have no data to suggest their fuel will otherwise harm engines. So it’s ethanol blended gas we should avoid? Not really, no…
What’s This About Ethanol?
Ethanol carries less energy than gasoline, but is cleaner, so it translates to healthier skies and less fuel economy for you. Check out any flex-fuel vehicle; their E85 MPG’s will be significantly less than regular gasoline mileage. But even Top Tier brands like Chevron and Exxon use some amount of ethanol. In fact, according to the EPA, E10 gasoline (meaning a 10% ethanol, 90% gas mix) is used by over 90% of the US gas market. Take a look at the various US requirements here (thanks ExxonMobil). And E15 gas is making its move as well, though not without opposition. So you really can’t avoid ethanol anyway.
The bottom line is that is your favorite gas station works for you, stay with it. And always remember to please, pull forward.