Is Top Tier Gas All That It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Gasoline is one of those necessities in life, if one owned a vehicle. And if you live in Los Angeles, or any of the major metropolitan areas, it’d be pretty hard to get around to places without one. Public transportation, unfortunately, still lags far behind the rest of the nation. Why that is the case is not the topic that I’m concerned about in this article. No. What I’m concerned about is how I can squeeze out the most gas mileage out of my existing vehicle while keeping costs down. Namely, is filling up my car with the best gas available going to give my car an extra few miles that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten had I chosen to put in cheaper gas? And what is the best gas available? Top Tier Gas.

There’s no doubt that Top Tier Gas retailers tend to be the most expensive of the bunch. But does it purport to do what it claims that it does? In theory, this additional and more potent fuel additive package than what the minimum EPA laws mandate helps clean engines from deposits and keep it in tip top performance. And common sense will have you believe the same thing. After all, in an engine that is full of sludge, it is more likely that it’ll take more work to produce the same amount of horsepower precisely because of that crud build up that standard combustion engines tend to make.

Now, I’m no chemist or chemical engineer but I have a theory. I’ve been doing a lot of research into this subject matter on various websites, some of which are clearly pro-supporters of “biofuels” (ethanol blended gas) and some of which are not supporters of biofuels. You can easily just find those who do support biofuels by simply Googling the search terms “E10 gas” or “ethanol gas.” And while both sides make interesting arguments for why they support the positions that they do, one thing remains certain. Biofuels, relative to non-ethanol based fuels, contain less energy and as such, your mileage per gallon will take a 10% hit (loss) in fuel efficiency in your vehicle.

In my experience so far, I’ve tried a number of gas stations and interestingly enough, only one gas station has been able to give me a consistent “extra day” worth of fuel. Before, I get into that, I’d to say that I’ve been a long time supporter of Chevron gas and have been buying almost exclusively Chevron gas when I first bought this car, a 97 Honda Accord. It was running rough and starting rough when I had first bought it and one tankful of this stuff just cleared up all of that. It was amazing. My car’s performance and MPG just shot up a whole 3 MPG’s and have remained that way ever since. But then at some point, when ethanol blended gas was introduced into California in 2010, gas stations were slow to adopt. But adopt they did. Both my car’s performance and MPG’s took a hit. It was actually rather depressing. I used to be able able to get a whole week’s worth of driving around on a full tank of gas before having to fill up. After the switch, I’d be fortunate if I could get five days out of the week driving around and that would depend largely on how conservatively I drove my car.

I’ve tried out the other top-tier gas stations as well: 76, Circle K, Shell, and Mobil. For whatever the reasons were, all of those gas stations made my car run like crap. Even before the switch to ethanol blended gas. And I gave each of them a chance. I attempted to replicate the (conservative) driving conditions that would allow me to maximize the amount of gas mileage I could get out of each full tank of gas. Out of all of these gas stations, Chevron still gave me the best MPG’s. I’ve also avoided filling up my car with discount gas from Costco, Arco, or Valero. Or even those no name/unbranded gas stations. I’ve made it a point to avoid those as well just because of the things I read on the internet. But after a while and the gas prices were slowly creeping up again like this past year, I decided to give one of those no name/off brand gas stations a try. Just because. And of those gas stations, I decided to go with “USA Gasoline” that cropped up everywhere ever since Arco didn’t renew their leases with a sizable chunk of gas stations in Southern California. Many of the stations that used to be Arco gas stations or Thrifty gas stations converted to USA Gasoline. The difference? USA Gasoline is the only off brand gas station that takes credit cards. Arco and Thrifty does not. So, on a whim, and out of curiosity due to the rising gas prices, I decided to give USA Gasoline a try. And to my surprise, USA Gasoline actually granted me an extra day’s worth of driving. On Chevron gas, I’d get about 5 days and a half, if I was driving very conservatively. Otherwise, “normal driving” (Read: reckless driving), I’d get about 5 days worth of driving. That, by the way, translates to about 270 miles on a full tank. With USA Gasoline, I’m getting a little over 300 miles on a full tank, depending on how conservatively I’m driving for any given week. If very conservative, I can get 7 whole days worth of driving, which is absolutely amazing! That would be the same amount I would have gotten had California not adopted to put ethanol in their gasoline.

Why the difference? Honestly, I have no idea. But to take an educated guess? I’m thinking that a lot of (if not all) of the top-tier gas stations are actually putting in more ethanol into their gasoline than is mandated by the state, which stands at 10% at the moment. I’ve seen quite a number of 76 and Circle K gas stations in Southern California that put up labels at the pump like “may contain up to 15% ethanol by volume” or something to that effect. Now, based on my research, I also read that, supposedly, if your car is made in 2001 or later, it’s okay and safe to use E10 (10% ethanol blended gas) and E15 (15% ethanol blended gas) without harmful effects. But if your car was older than that, then you might experience “driveability issues.” That’s what the EPA website said. So I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that my car is running like crap crap on E10 gas, given the age of my car.

Again, in my experience so far though? USA Gasoline gives me good MPG’s, almost as well as before California adopted ethanol blended gasoline. I’ve been searching for other no name/off brand gas stations that aren’t top tier gas stations ever since. Why? Because I want to further test that theory of mine that the ethanol content matters to how many MPG’s you get out of a tank full of gas. I mean, the science is there. It clearly says that ethanol based fuels contain less energy than plain old unleaded gasoline. And if top tier gasoline is supposedly putting in more “fuel additive” than what the EPA mandates, then that means there’s probably more ethanol content put in those gas stations relative to what is officially mandated. And if that’s true, then it would suggest that top-tier gas stations are probably serving E15 gas or higher to folks and making folks pay the price premium for the added ethanol. That’s bad. Really bad. A marketing ploy that aims to jack up prices unnecessarily and making you pay for more “watered down” gasoline, effectively. Think about it. If 15% of the gasoline is composed of ethanol, then you’re only getting 85% of actual regular gas at the pump. And if it is higher than that, you’re paying more money for fuel with even less “combustible energy” (albeit, cleaner energy).

My gut tells me that there’s something not quite right with top tier gas stations. And while I still stand by Chevron with their Techron, I just can’t justify it any longer if gas prices are going to keep rising. That’s just my two cents on the matter.

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