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Saving money is a worthwhile goal, but buying no name gasoline, from a discount store, is not a good idea. Cheap gasoline saves nothing and may cost us far more than most folks realize.

Is gasoline more expensive today?

Average gasoline cost has changed little, adjusted for inflation

Most folks believe gasoline prices are at all time highs. Gasoline prices have changed little, over the years. What we see as high prices are the effect of inflation, reducing our buying power.

They priced gasoline in 1934 at 20.5 cents per gallon. Adjusting for inflation, the price in 2014 would be $3.61. In other words, the 20.5 cents in 1934 had the same buying power as our $3.61 in 2014. They price gasoline very close to this amount today. We can verify this by using the calculator on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Website. They do not price gasoline more. Our dollar just buys a lot less because of inflation.

Very basic view of oil refining process

A brief history of fuel additives

In the late 1960's, refineries start working on additives to help remove deposits on engine valves. They introduce a compound named polybutene amine and it helps with the problem. Later a poly ether amine proves more effective. This compound helps valves and combustion chambers remain free from deposits.

Cheap fuel allows deposits to form on valves

The US Environmental Protection Agency determines that fuel system deposits may affect vehicle emissions. A minimum requirement is set for detergent content in automotive fuel. All fuel sold in the US is supposed to contain the federally mandated minimum. Additional additives and higher amounts of detergent may help considerably, but they do not mandate these.

Most States regulate gasoline sales, but check little more than the accuracy of the dispensing system and minimum octane. No one verifies the amount or quality of additives in gasoline. Each company sets their own specifications.

Vehicle manufacturers wish to protect their products and recommend fuel that meets "Top Tier" standards. Top Tier fuel meets a higher standard than required by law and is voluntary. For a list of companies that produce top tier fuel, please click this link.

Name brand versus no-name gasoline

Many people feel gasoline is the same, no matter where we purchase it. In reality, each brand is a unique product and quality varies significantly. People are confused when they learn a single refinery produces most fuel in a given area. Providing both quality name-brand and cheap no name fuel is common for a refinery. This does NOT mean all the fuel is the same. Each brand of fuel they produce are made to the standards of the company ordering the fuel.

A refinery produces all levels of products, some good, others cheap 

A single bakery produces several cakes. Each starts with the same flour, eggs and sugar yet is a unique product. The coconut cake is different from the chocolate cake and from the lemon cake. Refineries produce fuel with the additives and standards the buyer specifies. They may produce a very high quality name-brand fuel and a cheap no name fuel, each to the standards of the buyer.

In the refining process, they use temperature to separate crude oil into various components. One product that comes out of the distillation process is base gasoline. This is very different from the gasoline that fills our tanks. Each brand of gasoline is unique because of the additives they blend with it. The gasoline we buy is a very complex mixture of additives.

The Government specifies a minimum amount of detergent, octane and a few other additives. Base gasoline, mixed to meet these minimum standards will cost less than a fully blended product. They may blend brand name gasoline with properties far beyond the minimums. Additives may increase fuel mileage, allow easier starting and clean our engines. High quality, brand name fuel may also sell for a few pennies more per gallon. Considering the advantages, this is money well spent.

Cheap gasoline is no savings

Brand name fuels may contain two to three times the minimum required detergent. They may also contain additives to help prevent pinging and detonation, reduce wear, stabilize fuel, improve starting, reduce vapor lock and even extend fuel mileage. Using our fuel mileage calculator shows how little the savings from discount fuel amounts to.

 Brand Name  No Name
Gasoline Price  $3.65 $3.60
 Annual Miles 12,000 12,000
 Fuel Mileage 16 MPG 16 MPG
 Savings  $38.00 Per Year

Thirty-eight dollars a year will not begin to pay for even a very small fuel system repair.  If mileage is greater than 16 MPG or if we drive less, the savings are even smaller.  This also does not take into account possible better fuel mileage we may get with name brand fuel. 

Ironically, people often buy useless fuel injection and intake flushes for $150 to $250 to counter-act the effects of cheap gasoline.  Using a name brand fuel provides more benefit at a much lower cost.

Never pump while they dump

Never fill your tank while the tanker is filling the gasoline station tanks

Water and other contaminants may collect in service-station fuel tanks. Contaminants can enter the gasoline during transportation and filling processes. Ethanol they add to the gasoline may also absorb moisture. The amount per gallon is small. Thousands of gallons going through service station tanks will leave their mark. Since water is heavier than gasoline, it settles at the bottom of the gas-station fuel tanks. When the tanker truck fills the tanks, they may agitate contaminants. Once in our fuel tank, contaminants damage our fuel pump, clog injectors and fuel filters.  Avoiding stations that are refilling may help prevent problems.

Generally, the small savings from discount gasoline is not a very good gamble. You never get more than you pay for. Save money, use only brand-name fuel.

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