It really does matter which gas you put in your car.
According to a 2016 study from auto experts AAA, there’s a certain kind of gasoline out there that really does help your engine stay cleaner than it would be if you didn’t use this particular type of gas. The name? Top-tier.
That’s right; top-tier gasoline is a thing and it actually keeps your car’s engine cleaner. But here’s the deal. Not every gas station offers top-tier gasoline. Also, top-tier gasoline has nothing to do with octane levels, so don’t get “top-tier” mixed up with “premium.”
The reason why it’s important to know exactly what top-tier gas is has to do with investment. Your car’s engine will last longer and perform better if you make a habit of filling it with top-tier gasoline.
So, to help you protect your investment and become a consumer expert in gasoline, we’ve reached out to four different sources to provide the best possible information about top-tier gas: two scientists and two car experts.
Using the advice and insight of these experts along with our research of top-tier gasoline, we’ve come up with a guide that will answer the following questions:
- What is top tier gasoline?
- What’s the difference between top tier and high octane?
- How can it help your car?
- Who sells top tier gasoline?
From here on out, we’ll refer to top-tier gas as TOP TIER, something we’ll explain in the next section.
What Is TOP TIER Gasoline?
TOP TIER gasoline is part of a formal gas program called TOP TIER, in which eight different automakers came together to support a new tier of gasoline that contained more than the level of detergents required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Detergents clean your engine and are what’s known as additives. The EPA has certain regulations for the minimum amount of additives that need to be in a company’s gas.
According to TOP TIER, the EPA established the first additive standards in 1995. Turns out some companies had more detergent in their gas than what was required, so, “most gasoline marketers have actually reduced the concentration level of detergent additive in their gasoline by up to 50%.”
That means bad news for your engine. Why? Great question.
Gasoline is what your car uses to fuel itself. If your car doesn’t have gas, it won’t run. The gas you pump into your gas tank eventually ends up going into your engine’s combustion chamber.
Your spark plugs are screwed into this chamber, too. The spark on the plug fires at just the right time and causes the mixture of air and gas to ignite (combust), which pushes the pistons and keeps your engine going.
Dr. John Nuszkowski, an associate professor in University of North Florida’s School of Engineering, said your engine will experience approximately 1.5 billion of these little explosions over a 10-year period. “Over the many combustion events, any small difference in engine operation or fuel may have a real effect.”
How Is TOP TIER Different Than Premium or High-Octane?
The main difference between top tier gas and premium gas is function.
Top tier gas has additives that keep your engine cleaner than it would be without those additives.
Premium gas, on the other hand, has higher levels of octane, which means that the gas can remain stable longer in the combustion chamber and won’t explode on its own.
All cars can benefit from TOP TIER gas but only certain cards with high-performance engines can benefit from high-octane gas, says Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com.
“Using premium gas in a car for which regular gas has been recommended is a waste of money. The car will not run any better,” Reina said. “It’s not octane that consumers should be chasing, but the extra additives found in any grade of TOP TIER fuels.”
How Does TOP TIER Fuel Help Your Engine?
This is the golden question because it will help you decide if TOP TIER gasoline is worth it.
Remember how we talked about all those little explosions happening in your engine? Think of each of those explosions like a little firecracker.
You see, when you put a firecracker on the street or dirt or piece of plywood and light it, the resulting explosion leaves a black mark wherever the firecracker was sitting.
Think about that same type of mark being left on your engine. Not a pretty picture, right? If there’s only the base amount of additives in your gas, then those billions of little explosions are going to leave a lot of residue.
However, when you start to use a TOP TIER gas with more detergent than what’s required, you can seriously cut back on the deposits left in your engine.
AAA discovered this when they did a comparison between three TOP TIER fuels and three non-TOP TIER fuels. Here’s a photo from their results:
The organization said that the independent laboratory who tested the fuels found that “non-TOP TIER gasolines caused 19 times more engine deposits than TOP TIER brands after just 4,000 miles of simulated driving.”
Dr. Chris Kabana, lead additives product engineer at car product specialists Gold Eagle Company, said that an engine with less deposits performs better.
“Less deposits means better performance, specifically better fuel economy,” Kabana said. “Additionally, a cleaner system will run more efficiently and go longer before needing repairs.”
Is It Worth It to Buy TOP TIER Gas?
Whether or not TOP TIER gas is worth it is really a matter of how much it reduces repair costs and how much it actually costs at the pump.
To figure out the repair side of things, we went out and did some quick research on the cost of car repairs. According to Your Mechanic, repair costs increase with every 25,000 miles you put on your car. Here’s a helpful table they published in 2016:
As you can see, the costs rise as you put more miles on your car. We see this as similar to your health; costs go up as you get older.
So, just like how doctors recommend eating healthy when you’re younger, based on the research we’ve done we think it’s wise to put your car on a diet of TOP TIER gas as soon as you can.
As Kabana pointed out, using TOP TIER gas will help your car run longer without needing repairs. But his advice isn’t just academic, he said.
“I know the stations around home and work and actively avoid the ones not offering TOP TIER gas,” he said. “I want the system to last longer and I want the best miles-per-gallon I can get out of my engine.”
Of course, the trick is knowing which gas stations offer TOP TIER gas and which ones don’t.
Who Sells TOP TIER Gas?
Thankfully, TOP TIER gas is available in more places than you think, said O.J. Lopez, owner of Illinois-based Fluid MotorUnion.
“TOP TIER gas is worth it,” Lopez told us. “And, it's becoming less and less common to find stations that carry the non-TOP TIER stuff, especially if you live anywhere close to a major metropolitan area.”
TOP TIER maintains a list of licensed retail brands who sell their fuel. You can download a PDF of their sellers on their website, but we went ahead and created a chart of TOP TIER-licensed companies at the time of publishing:
|TOP TIER Brands|
|BP Regular||BP Silver||Break Time||Cenex||Chevron|
|CountryMark Plus||Diamond Shamrock||Esso||Express||Exxon|
|Hele||Holiday||Kwik Star||Kwik Trip||Kwik Trip Express|
|OAAI||Ohana Fuels||Petro-Canada||Phillips 66||PUMA Energy Caribe|
|Shell (Canada)||Shell (Puerto Rico)||Sinclair||Standard||Sunoco Ultratech|
|SuperAmerica||SuperFuels||Tempo||Texaco||Tri-Par Qwik Stop|
We noticed a few things when we read over this list. First, Costco is the only wholesale store who sells TOP TIER gas. That’s a huge advantage over its competitors, particularly if you live close enough to the local Costco to where you can easily fill up on the way to work or home.
Second, all the top oil and gas companies in the U.S. offer TOP TIER gas: Exxon, Chevron, Phillips 66, Valero and Marathon.
Finally, we echo what Lopez said about the near universality of TOP TIER gas stations. Considering the names that are on this list, you should have no problem finding a TOP TIER station somewhere near your home or place of work.
In all, there are 50 gas station brands in North America who carry TOP TIER gasoline. And, AAA noted in the study we talked about earlier, TOP TIER gas costs, on average, only $0.03 more per gallon.
A Summary of Why It’s Worth It to Buy TOP TIER Gas
Based on our interactions with experts, we believe that TOP TIER gas is worth buying because the additives in it slow the build-up of residue. And, in doing so, those additives increase your car’s fuel efficiency and your engine’s longevity.
As far as how much TOP TIER gas will cost you over non-TOP TIER, we think the extra three pennies you pay per gallon is more than worth it.
Our best advice is to take mental notes of gas prices in your area, keeping in mind which gas stations sell TOP TIER fuel and which don’t.