Going Low Octane

Published on

Marketplace Morning Report (NPR Radio)

The following commentary by FTCR President Jamie Court was broadcast on American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report radio program on NPR on Tuesday, February 21st, 20006. Click here to listen to the audio of the commentary.
BRIAN WATT, anchor: This is MARKETPLACE. I’m Brian Watt, and I’ve been known to use certain strategies to save a few pennies at the gas pump. I’m not the guy who drives miles out of his way to save 3 cents a gallon, but I know which stations on my
routes have the best prices. And you’ll never catch me buying anything but the
least expensive stuff. Commentator Jamie Court says I’ve got the right idea.

JAMIE COURT (FTCR): You should be thinking about buying the cheapest gas all year long, no matter what gas prices are doing. Of course, when gas prices go up, it seems like you see more ads advertising the special quality of the big oil companies’ premium offerings. For those of us not driving a Ferrari, these claims are just malarkey.

Oil companies want you to believe all gasoline isn’t created equal, so if you want to keep your car from making nasty knocks and make sure it really gets the mileage it can, then flip for the extra 15 or 20 cents per gallon for premium.

Shell says its V-power premium gasoline is its most advanced formula ever, and cleans your engine like taking the gunk out of a dirty oven. Chevron claims if you want to keep those deposits from building up in your combustion chamber and run at maximum performance, then buy its Techron Supreme, even if your car’s handbook doesn’t recommend premium.

Well, experts for the AAA to the Federal Trade Commission will tell you that’s cow pie. If you’re buying higher octane fuel and your car’s handbook doesn’t recommend it, you can stop paying through the nose. We’re not talking rocket fuel here, or rocket science. Gas companies market more expensive higher octane gas like it’s a cure for your car’s cancer.

The truth is, unless you’re driving a higher performance car, or an old muscle car of the past, gas is gas. Oil companies’ marketing claims over the need for higher octane fuel used to be ever bigger hooey. The Federal trade Commission stepped in the 1990s to force fairer representations. With oil companies now recording record profits, they have even more money to make bigger marketing boasts. But the truth is no different: Buy the cheapest gasoline you can find unless your automaker tells you otherwise.

If you hear knocking, you may want to buy a higher octane fuel. But most cars today are equipped with sensors that prevent knocking. The EPA already requires detergents in all gasoline, so if you’re buying a more expensive gas for its motor-cleansing properties you could be throwing your money away.

Even in cases where the manufacturer recommends, but does not require premium, there may not be a true need. Motorists should pin their automakers down. With the recent jumps at the pump, paying an extra dime or two per gallon for premium when you don’t have to is like adding larceny to extortion.

Remember, the only difference between premium and regular for most of us is the price.

WATT: Jamie Court is the author of the book “Corporateering” and runs http://www.consumerwatchdog.org. In Los Angeles I’m Brian Watt. Thanks for listening.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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