Is high-octane fuel better for your car?

Is it worth it?
by Joey Bernardez | Oct 14, 2018
PHOTO: Joey Bernardez

For high-performance nuts like myself, the high-octane fuels that are available in this country are a godsend. However, high-octane fuel carries a price premium. So, is it really better for your car? If it costs more, it should be better, right?

Then theres the question of everyday cars. Is it worth fueling them up with high-octane fuel? Will your engine produce more power as oil companies commercials suggest? Does higher octane mean higher quality?

The price difference between premium and regular fuels is nothing to scoff at—it’s rather significant. At the gas station, there are usually three grades of gasoline: 91RON, 95RON, and 97RON. There’s a P2 to P3 price difference between each of these fuel grades. Between the lowest and the highest octane rating, there can be a premium of about P5. If you have a 40-liter fuel tank, that translates to a P200 price difference for every tankful.

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For a car with a stock engine, is there value to using the higher-octane fuels? Before we get into the topic, lets go back to the basics: What is octane rating?

Gasoline’s octane rating is merely its resistance to knock or ping. Low-octane fuels are formulated to burn or combust faster and more easily. High-octane fuels, on the other hand, are designed to burn more slowly and more evenly. The difference is that the low-octane fuels have a greater tendency for pre-ignition (knock or ping) since they burn quickly. High-octane fuels have a greater resistance to pre-ignition because they burn slowly. In terms of performance, you want the slower-burning fuel because the faster-burning kind can cause pre-ignition, and that can burn up your pistons in the long run.

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However, most of today’s engines are designed and programmed to run on low- or mid-octane fuels, meaning theres no danger of pre-ignition, knock, or ping so long as you use the manufacturers recommended fuel.

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In a regular car, is it better if you use a high-octane fuel? In a word: No.

It will not give you better performance or make your engine more powerful. If your car doesn’t ping on the fuel that the manufacturer recommends for it, theres no reason to seek a high-octane fuel.

Does high-octane mean higher quality? No.

Generally, high-octane fuel isn’t any better at preventing the formation of deposits in the engine, nor does it help in removing them. In fact, the government requires that all octane grades on all brands of gasoline contain engine-cleaning detergent additives to prevent the buildup of engine deposits. This is a part of environmental protection.

Who should use high-octane fuel?

Some cars that are fitted with turbochargers or superchargers from the factory, or cars with high-compression engines will require high-octane fuel to perform at optimum levels. However, since high-octane fuel isn’t always available, such engines are fitted with knock sensors that will retard the ignition timing so they can run on low-octane fuel without the engine knocking or pinging. However, the performance will be somewhat compromised.

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Also, in some cases where an engine is rather old and it’s already pinging and knocking with the fuel it’s supposed to run on (perhaps because of carbon deposits), you can try using a high-octane fuel as a way to prevent pre-ignition.

There are also enthusiasts who tinker with their cars and modify their engines, and they need high-octane fuel because their engines will ping and knock on anything less.

But if you have a regular car and its owner’s manual states that you use the basic 91RON and your engine runs fine on it without detonation, filling up the tank with high-octane fuel is a waste of money.

Hope that helped!

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PHOTO: Joey Bernardez
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