We all dream of the day that our self driving electric car drives us home and then proceeds to charge itself. Unfortunately, until that day comes we all will have to continue to perform the tasks of driving and refueling our cars. However, if you are anything like me playing gas roulette has always bothered me.
There are two components to buying fuel. First, determining which gas station to purchase fuel from. Second, determining which variant of fuel to buy.
The first component is easy, just a simple math problem for which I created a calculator below. In my situation I can drive about a mile down the road and pay approximately $0.30 less a gallon. Which for me is well worth the extra couple of minutes.
Gas Cost at Station #1: $
Gas Cost at Station #2: $
Miles to Station #2: Miles
Gallons to Buy: Gallons
Vehicle Miles per Gallon: MPG
Travel Time to Station #2: Minutes
Value of your time: $: per minute
For the second component, a recent report by AAA shows that Americans waste over $2 billion each year on premium gasoline. The report only studied cars designed for regular unleaded (87-octane) and the effects of using premium unleaded (93-octane). AAA tested only a set of vehicles from 2016. If you have an older car your mileage may vary (literally). On an interesting side note it appears that AAA rented the cars it used in it's test. The report findings reflects numerous internet studies and my own anecdotal observations that premium gas used in a car designed for regular gas gives only marginal (if any) increases in miles per gallon (MPG) and is usually not worth the price premium.
AAA does recommend that you purchase gasoline from a Top Tier gas station stating that cheaper "no name" gas lack detergents. These fuel variants can cause buildup and engine deposits that will lead to lower gas mileage and higher emissions. The report doesn't state how significant "if any" these effects are. This separate report reinforces the stereotypical buy gas from "good" gas stations mentality. I do question the "Top Tier" gas station branding because almost every major chain is a "Top Tier" brand, well except 7-eleven so maybe it is accurate...
It is important to point out that these studies did not pertain to E15, E85, or ethanol free gasoline. Also, there are dozens of different fuel variants on the market. For example due to regulations California uses special blends separate from the rest of the United States. This is a contributing factor to why gas prices are higher in California.
If you are buying premium gasoline for a regular modern vehicle, chances are you are wasting your hard earned money. At the end of the day, where you buy your gasoline is more important that what variant you buy.