Do I Really Need To Put Premium Gasoline in My Vehicle?

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Picture this: You recently bought a vehicle. After the purchase, you discover a recommendation to use premium gasoline with your particular make and model.

Do you really have to pay extra money every time you fill your gas tank? Or can you still use regular gasoline?

That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.

Does My Car Need Premium Gasoline?

Do I need to follow the recommendation to use premium gasoline with my vehicle?

That question lingered on a listener’s mind.

Asked Mitchell in Mississippi: “I just purchased a used vehicle and learned after the fact that it takes ‘premium gasoline only.’ My wife has a similar make and model that doesn’t have this restriction. There seem to be varying opinions on what gas to actually use. Do you have any suggestions for managing fuel costs for a ‘premium’ only engine?”

Some older vehicles do require premium gasoline. But Clark suspects with near certainty that the make and model Mitchell cited would operate safely and normally without premium gas.

“The reason that Lexus says [you need] premium fuel only? Almost certainly it’s so that [your car] meets its rated horsepower,” Clark says. “You have about 99% [odds of being] A-OK putting regular fuel in that Lexus.

“Lexus is Toyota’s premium brand. That model has to be able to operate at various octane levels in markets all over the world. And the vehicle has a computer control system that will adjust to the level of the octane you put in it. So if you run that on regular, it may be a tiny fraction slower 0 to 60 [mph]. But the vehicle should be absolutely fine.”

What Is Premium Gasoline and What Cars Need It?

Premium gasoline is gas with an octane rating of 91 or more. Some sports or luxury vehicles get better performance out of their engines with high-octane fuel. It can help prevent knocking and pinging in the engine, which can cause damage.

Another class of vehicles that may legitimately need premium gas? Those built prior to 1996, Clark says.

You can research your make and model online. You’ll likely find good information on whether you need to go with the more expensive premium fuel at the gas station.

“Vehicles built before 1996 that call for premium fuel almost certainly need that premium fuel. And there are a very, very, very, very tiny number of high-performance vehicles built more recently that actually do need premium fuel,” Clark says. “But other than those two exceptions, your Lexus should be absolutely fine running on regular.


“And by the way, if you put regular in it and you hear engine knocking, you know that I don’t know what I’m talking about and you need to go buy the premium fuel. (That’s not going to happen.)”

Final Thoughts

Premium gasoline is expensive. You may not want to pay extra for gas every time you fill up your vehicle, especially if your vehicle will operate normally without it.

In most cases, the only vehicles that need premium gas are high-end luxury or sports cars (for performance) or vehicles made before 1996.