AAA's Fuel Quality Research did an intake valve comparison. Photo courtesy of AAA.

AAA's Fuel Quality Research did an intake valve comparison. Photo courtesy of AAA.

New testing from AAA has uncovered significant differences in the quality of gasoline sold at fuel retailers in the United States.

The independent laboratory tested different types of gasoline that meet Top Tier standards, which were developed for gasoline to meet stricter targets for engine cleanliness.

Among brands tested, non-Top Tier gasoline caused 19 times more engine deposits than Top Tier brands after just 4,000 miles of simulated driving, according to AAA. Such carbon deposits are known to reduce fuel economy, increase emissions, and negatively impact vehicle performance, particularly on newer vehicles.

“AAA was surprised to learn the extent to which detergent additives impact gasoline quality,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair. “As advertised, tested Top Tier gasolines kept engines remarkably cleaner than other fuels we tested.”

In response to increasing levels of carbon deposits in modern engine designs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated a minimum level of detergent for all gasoline sold in the U.S. in 1996. However, some automakers believe the minimum does not go far enough to ensure optimal vehicle performance and their ability to meet increasingly-stringent fuel economy and emissions requirements.

“When it comes to selecting a gasoline, automakers got it right — Top Tier gasoline performs best,” said Nielsen. “By selecting a quality gasoline, drivers can minimize engine deposits, increase vehicle performance, and improve fuel economy.”

Despite the fact that two-thirds of U.S. drivers believe there is a difference in quality of gasoline sold by different gas stations, an AAA survey reveals that Americans value convenience and price over quality when it comes to selecting a gas station:

• Three-quarters of U.S. drivers choose a gas station based on location (75%) or price (73%).
• Nearly one-third (29%) of U.S drivers choose a gas station based on a rewards program.
• Only 12% of U.S. drivers select a gas station based on whether the gasoline contains an enhanced detergent package.
• Nearly half (47%) of U.S. drivers do not regularly buy gasoline that contains an enhanced detergent additive.
• Men (44%) are more likely than women (26%) to regularly buy a gasoline that contains an enhanced detergent package, as are baby boomers (41%) compared to millennials (32%).

“Americans are six times more likely to choose a gas station based on the price of gasoline rather than the quality of the fuel,” said Nielsen. “Since Top Tier gasoline is widely available and only an average of three cents more per gallon, AAA urges drivers to reconsider their priorities when selecting gas station.”

To ensure a gas station sells a high quality gasoline, consumers should research the fuel options near them. According to Top Tier, one-third of gas stations meet the Top Tier standard for fuel quality. 

“Fortunately, consumers can reverse some engine deposits simply by switching gasoline brands,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering. “After a few thousand miles with Top Tier gasoline, performance issues like rough idling or hesitation during acceleration can often be resolved.”

For testing purposes, AAA selected Top Tier and non-Top Tier gasolines from a southern Texas market that represents the type of gasoline sold across the majority of the U.S. To measure intake valve and combustion chamber deposits, AAA engaged the services of an independent International Standards Organization 17025 certified engine testing lab to perform an ASTM International standard test on fuels.