Dear Car Talk:
Back in the ‘70s, we were often told it was best for a car’s engine to always use the same brand of gas. Some sources even said to always use the same gas station or even the same pump.
Have engines evolved now to the point where this doesn’t matter anymore? It would be nice to no longer have to maintain a mental list of acceptable gas stations in my area, or to stress over finding one before my tank runs dry on a road trip.
Is this still true? Was it ever true? — John
Not and never, John. It is not still true. And it was never true. Your car’s engine was designed to run on any brand of EPA approved gasoline, and the idea that it “got used to” a certain brand or a certain station or pump is an old father’s tale. So we’re here to set you free, John. More or less.
Here’s the more or less part: Modern fuel injected cars run best (over a long period of time) on what are called Top Tier gasolines. Those are gasolines that have a higher level of detergent additives than the EPA requires.
The whole Top Tier thing was started by a group of manufacturers that felt that gasolines weren’t doing enough to keep their advanced engines clean. So they pestered a bunch of major oil companies into raising their standards. And that’s how Top Tier Gas got started.
Top Tier gas has extra additives, especially detergents, that reduce deposits in the fuel system and help keep expensive parts like fuel injectors clean. And today, the vast majority of major brand gasolines sell only Top Tier gas. Those include well-known brands like 76, Arco, Amoco, BP, Citgo, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, Philips 66, Shell, Sunoco, Texaco, Valero and others you’ve heard of. Plus some you may not see advertising, like Kirkland Signature Gas from Costco. To see a full list of all the brands that sell only Top Tier gas — or to print out the list and stick it in your glove box — go to https://toptiergas.com/licensed-brands.
And that’s all you need to consider when buying gas, John. It doesn’t matter which of the Top Tier gasolines you buy or if you mix them. It doesn’t matter what grade you use (use the grade recommended in your owner’s manual). It doesn’t matter which pump or which particular station you buy from.
We recommend you buy from the station with the lowest prices and the cleanest restroom, and use the pump that no car is currently parked in front of. And as long as it’s one of the Top Tier gasolines, your car will be happy.