Is it safe to put regular gas in a car that requires premium? Auto experts in Hampton give us the answers

Hampton Wawa gas (March 9).png
Posted at 4:16 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 13:03:50-05

HAMPTON, Va. — If you drive a car, it seems there is no way to avoid the rising cost of filling up. Some drivers are experimenting by putting regular gas in cars designed to take a higher octane. News 3 spoke with auto experts to see if the risk is worth the reward.

Frustration continues to grow for drivers like Debora Stancel.

"I use premium, and every time I go somewhere, I'm steady looking at my gas hand," said Stancel.

Stancel drives a Volkswagen that requires her to use premium gas. However, she said she can't afford it right now, leading her to make other decisions that will be easier on her pockets.

"I have an older car - it's a 2004 Dodge Stratus. It uses nothing but regular [gas]. I'm getting ready to put it on the road in two weeks. I've already checked, and that's the car I will be driving until the gas come down," said Stancel.

Ernest Daniels, a local who's also shocked about rising gas prices, said, "I get premium, so it's looking like I will have to switch over to regular because of the price raise."

News 3 spoke with the owner of Hampton Roads Car Care to ask if premium gas can be switched out for regular without changing how your car drives.

"Temporarily, it shouldn't affect how the car drives. Long-term, I would say... I would think about changing back to premium if you had to when the gas prices go back down. But with new technology, the newer vehicles' computer will adjust to the octane change," said owner Won O.

However, it can cause long-term issues, like causing your car engine to make a knocking sound.

But for the short-term, O said drivers can use a grade lower to save money.

"Right now because of gas prices, I would go for the lower grade just for a little while," said O.

Car experts say the long-term effects on your car can be hearing a rattling sound. Reduce your miles per gallon, and there could be an issue with your engine sensors.

AAA offers the following tips on how to save on fuel while on the road:

  • Tires & maintenance – Keep your vehicle in top shape with routine inspections and in between, make sure your tires are properly inflated.
  • Plan ahead – Map your route before you go to minimize unnecessary turnarounds and backtracking. Avoid peak traffic times. Combine errands and go to "one-stop shops” where you can do multiple tasks (banking, shopping, etc.).
  • Watch your speed – Fuel economy peaks at around 50 mph on most cars, then drops off as speeds increase. Reducing highway speeds by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy by as much as 14%.
  • Avoid excessive idling – A car engine consumes one quarter to one-half gallon of fuel per hour when idling, but a warm engine only takes around 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart. Where safe to do so, shut off your engine if you will be stopped for more than a minute.
  • Use "fast pass" or “express” toll lanes – Avoiding unnecessary stops or slowdowns on the highway helps save fuel.
  • Avoid rush hour – Take advantage of flex work hours to avoid commuting during peak traffic times.
  • Anticipate road conditions – Watch the traffic ahead and "time" stoplights to maintain momentum and avoid unnecessary stop and go.
  • Regular vs. Premium – If regular gas is recommended for your vehicle, that’s all you need. Opting for premium when your car doesn’t require it will only cost you money and doesn’t improve fuel economy.
  • Shop around & save – To find the best gas price in your area, use the AAA Mobile App. AAA Members should enroll in Shell’s Fuel Rewards program to save 30 cents per gallon on their first fill-up and 5 cents per gallon on each additional fill-up.

Related: Looking for the cheapest gas in Virginia? Here's where to find it as prices soar