Things to keep in mind about fuel octane ratings when you gas up

Memorize these
by Jason Tulio | May 25, 2017


When you pull up to a gas station, you’re faced with a myriad of gasoline choices, each one labeled with a different octane rating. These digits can seem like hieroglyphics to newbie car owners. It doesn’t help that each gasoline brand has their own product names for each type of fuel. Even to seasoned veterans, the issue of knowing which fuel is right for your car can be tricky to manage.

To help ease your fuel woes, here are three things to keep in mind the next time you gas up, as told by experts:

1) Using a lower-octane fuel won’t necessarily wreck your engine. You might have been misled into thinking that fuel octane ratings are set in stone, and that using the wrong one is tantamount to turning your engine into a ticking time bomb. Thanks to modern technology, however, this isn’t always the case.

TGP technical editor Ferman Lao says, “Using a lower-octane fuel in most modern cars just means you're not getting optimum performance or efficiency. The octane rating is a means to determine the ‘knock’ or self-ignition resistance of the fuel. The higher the number, the more knock-resistant it is.”

Note that this bit of advice won’t always apply for, say, performance-oriented vehicles or older engines, so be careful before experimenting.

2) Determining the best fuel for your car is a matter of trial and error. Okay, so given that you can experiment in most cases with different types of fuel, how do you determine which one is best for your car?

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“The exact answer will be a little different for everyone, even among drivers with the same vehicle model. Essentially, it can be summed up in the following sentence: The fuel brand along your daily route with the octane rating that gets you the best fuel economy for your driving environment and habits is the fuel that's best-suited for your car,” Lao advises.

In short, there's no single right answer. You have to determine for yourself which kind is best for you, your car, and your driving style.  

3) When in doubt, consult your car’s manual. That little book in your glove compartment might be dry enough to substitute for sandpaper, but it’s essential literature for knowing how to best operate and fuel up your car. When in doubt, it's your best bet for determining what fuel to use. 

Chevron Philippines product engineering specialist Ronaldo Daguman explains: "A well-maintained automobile only needs fuel with an octane level that meets what is indicated in the owner’s manual. Choosing the best octane rating is like shopping for a t-shirt. If the size medium fits you well, why go for XXL?”

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