So lately I've been given some thought about gas.
I drive a Geo Metro. A vehicle which gets between 40-50 MPG, and which has provided me and Shannon with almost 30,000 commuting miles in the last couple years. The savings have been immense. Having come back state-side from Belgium and catching up on some maintenance, I recently, based on a recommendation, added some Chevron Techron fuel cleaner (the additive not the gas) in a tank of gas. This was the first time I had ever did this to this car, and it is possible it's the first time in 177,000 miles it's ever had fuel cleaner in it.
Of course you expect gas to be clean, so I didn't really expect much. However, the reviews online are impressive. Clearly this stuff works, either that or mass psychosis from the fumes (there are no fumes). Check the reviews online yourself and you'll see. So what the heck, right? On the chance it could improve fuel efficiency I figured I'd try it. So I tossed it in with a tank of gas and drove for a week. The results were horrible. I was down 4 MPG from my normal rate.
So I did some talking around and found out if you have a great deal of carbon, the Techron Chevron fuel cleaner can actually coat your 02 sensor and reduce your fuel mileage (even set a CEL in some cases but then later extinguish). Seems to make sense.
So I waited. Another tank, and the MPG went back to normal (+4.5 MPG). Then in two weeks, it jumped another 2 MPG. I'm now in the middle of my third tank waiting for the possibility of even better results.
Of course I can't say for certain any of this is a consequence of the other, but it makes sense to me. I tend to be a skeptic, and lean for objective reasoning, but my rough idle disappeared, and the MPG increase was impressive.
The point of all this, is to say, I started to rethink my fuel purchases. I fill up about 2 times a week. More importantly my habits in the past have been to buy either the cheapest or most convenient gas station. Considering my geography, I mostly filled up at Wal-Mart Express, and a local gas station called Quik Chek. Both are discount gas stations, and both are about the same price of a Top Tier station not to far from me (sometimes a few cents more).
What is Top Tier Gas? Well every gallon of gas has "cleaners" (called detergents) in them. The government sets a standard which all gas stations must adhere to. With Top Tier stations, they add additional, and proprietary formulas (for instance you can buy Chevron gas with low dosages of their cleaner already in it) of these cleaners.
Around here, two main stations have Top Tier, B.P. & Shell (though B.P. never officially joined the consortium [www.toptiergas.com] but does provide the additional cleaners). See link for a list of retailers near you.
For me it makes sense, for about the same price of the "cheap" gas, and by just making the conscious decision to shop for better gas (being educated about a habit I make twice a week) seems to make great sense. It makes even better sense if it leads to better gas mileage, and longevity of my engine.
Interestingly this picture from BASF, the company that makes these fuel additives, including the ones that gas stations use, show how remarkable of a difference the "standard" government regulated amounts (LAC RATE) clean in comparison to greater amounts:
Interestingly, many auto manufactures (Toyota, GM, Honda and BMW) recommend these higher detergent fuels in the owners manuals but most people never look.
While both Shell and BP (the two places I go) offer top-tier in all octanes (87, 89, 91) they've also done something kind of cool. They're adding 5-6x the detergents to the premium fuels (e.g. Shell V Power), providing additional benefits to those who choose to partake in it. (I'll stick with the 87 and add an additive in at oil changes).
Indeed in one government article several years back, one of the greatest factors in fuel efficiency on modern engines was the carbon buildup, and lack of detergents in fuels.
The cost for gas companies to join the consortium is expensive, but it gives them a privileged right to sell gas that meets performance and cleaning benchmarks set by car manufacturers. Considering it's likely to cost me less than $1 more per tank (not gallon), or even the same price (usually only .01-.10 cents more per gallon), I'm really kicking myself over why I never did this sooner?
The truth is, I didn't know about it, didn't care to think about it, or just plain didn't believe the hype (which is equally silly). Considering this mistake I thought I pass on the information to others. I'm now in the process of training those who drive my Metro to only take her to Shell or BP, and I'm trying explain why I've started doing this.
Have I been suckered in by marketing, or is there really a difference between frugality- and just being cheap?