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What Is Top Tier Gas?

Experts Say It’s Worth Paying Extra to Prevent Engine Damage

Not all brands of fuel are created equal. It matters which gas station drivers patronize. A study by AAA found that 75 percent of U.S. motorists choose a gas station based primarily on price. However, experts agree that it’s worth paying a few pennies more per gallon – if that – to fill your car, truck, or SUV’s tank with what’s called “Top Tier” fuel. 

What Is Top Tier Gas?

Top Tier fuel is gasoline or diesel, which has more detergent additives than the Environment Protection Agency requires. Detergent additives help keep engines clean.

How Does Detergent in Gas or Diesel Work?

Federal law requires all gasoline to contain a minimum level of detergent to prevent performance-crippling deposits from building up in the fuel delivery system of a car. If, for example, the intake valves or fuel injectors become clogged with gunk, they can cause the engine to hesitate, idle roughly, knock, ping, or suffer reduced fuel economy.

Top Tier Is a Brand Developed by Automakers

In the early 2000s, several automakers decided that the government’s standards didn’t go far enough to keep modern engines clean. To address their concerns, they developed a stricter set of standards. These standards led to the release of Top Tier gasoline in 2004. Participants in the program include Audi, BMW, Chrysler (now Stellantis), General Motors, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Volkswagen. To claim to be Top Tier, a gasoline company must include detergent additives in specified amounts to minimize engine deposits.

Top Tier Is Available With Gas and Diesel

Researchers also developed Top Tier diesel fuel. Like Top Tier gasoline, Top Tier diesel fuel reduces deposits. It also increases fuel stability and engine lubrication.

Which Gas Stations Sell Top Tier Fuel?

More than 50 brands offer Top Tier gas and diesel fuel in the U.S. That means there’s a good chance one or more stations are offering it near you. Arco, Chevron, Gulf, Mobil, Phillips 66, and Texaco sell Top Tier gas, along with most other major gas station chains. Smaller brands, convenience stores, and retailers like Costco and Meijer also sell Top Tier gas. You can check the full list of participating brands on the Top Tier Gas website.

You can tell if a retailer is selling Top Tier gas by looking for the trademarked Top Tier logo. It may be on the pump, pump handle, canopy over the pumps, or station window. You can also ask the station operator if you don’t see the logo displayed.

Top Tier vs. Premium Gas

All participating brand’s available grades must adhere to Top Tier standards. However, you should still stick with the type with the octane level required for your vehicle. Paying 20 cents or more per gallon for premium fuel will not provide more protection if your engine runs on regular. 

Your owner’s manual can tell you the type of fuel recommended for your vehicle. If your vehicle requires premium fuel, you’ll usually see it noted inside the gas cap cover or on the instrument panel by the fuel gauge.

Is Top Tier Gas Worth the Extra Money?

Yes, Top Tier gas is worth the extra money. The benefits are not a myth.

Filling your tank with Top Tier fuel may not cost more than using gas sold by non-certified brands. AAA says the added expenditure averages around 3 cents per gallon. The extra engine protection it brings is worth every penny.

Specifically, AAA found that in six separate 4,000-mile simulated examinations, running on Top Tier gas reduced intake valve deposits by a factor of 19, compared with fuel without the extra additives. Researchers tested six brands of gas, three of which were Top Tier.

AAA’s results also indicated that continued fuel use without the Top Tier additive package could result in 2% to 4% lower mpg, increased emissions, and a greater chance of maintenance issues.

Not only that, the study showed that moving up to Top Tier gas can reduce or remove existing carbon deposits left behind by non-certified fuel by 45% to 72% over 5,000 miles of driving. AAA suggests that switching to a Top Tier brand for several fill-ups may correct the problem if your vehicle begins to idle rough when cold or hesitates when you accelerate.

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