Generic Gas VS. Name Brand…Is There a Difference?

By Vanessa Scott
SC Staff Writer

Driving down my local road the other day I past a sign outside of a gas station that read, “Family owned brand name gas. Brand name gas means more miles per gallon.” As I past the sign, I was eager to stop in and get gas because of course, who doesn’t want to save a buck or two on fuel. As I continued driving, I pondered how much truth this sign held. Does brand name gas really mean more miles to the gallon? How many times have you driven past your local no name station and read a cheaper price than the Exxon or Mobile you just past? What is the difference and why are these companies charging more? We all know that “brand names” will get away with charging more, simply for the loyalty of the customer, but is there really a difference in the gas we are putting in our cars at pumps less than a mile away from each other. I set out to find the real truth behind these prices.

A few years back, ABC News conducted an experiment where they set out to see if generic gas is good for one’s car. With the help of the Maryland State Comptroller, they compared Mobil gas to Liberty gas. At the Maryland Fuel Testing Laboratory, chemists conducted a battery of tests where they checked octane levels and contaminants. According to lab worker, Bob Crawford, “By and large, it’s one and the same…You will find results will almost mirror each other. There are going to be slight variations — but gasoline is gasoline.” According to the EPA all gas must be at a certain ethanol level, which is currently 10%, and recently at some stations 15% for newer cars use only. However, according to ABC News,

“Different gas station chains…buy the raw fuel and add their own blend of detergents. In the past, there might have been more of a difference between different brands of regular unleaded, but these days the EPA requires that all gas contain a minimum amount of detergent to keep car engines clean.”

However, according to TOP TIER, detergent gasoline, which is the premier standard for gasoline performance, “Six of the world’s top automakers, BMW, General  Motors,  Honda,  Toyota, Volkswagen, and Audi recognize that the current EPA minimum detergent requirements do not go far enough to ensure optimal engine performance.” What does this mean?  According to TOP TIER, “Since the minimum additive performance standards were first established by EPA in 1995, most gasoline marketers have actually reduced the concentration level of detergent additive in their gasoline by up to 50%.  As a result, the ability of a vehicle to maintain stringent tier 2 emission standards has been hampered, leading to engine deposits which can have a big impact on in-use emissions and driver satisfaction.”

These automakers decided to make their own change to standards when they came to the conclusion that the EPA’s standards are too low and outdated. Keith Corkwell, manager of Lubrizol Corp, an Ohio based chemical company, states, “The sensitivity of modern engines is much higher than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” he continues, “We don’t make engines that look like that anymore. The technologies have changed.” Even though gas has been required to have a certain amount of additives since 1995, these six car manufactures started to up their recommendations to higher levels of additives in 2004. By doing this, the car receives greater deposit control performance leaving critical parts of the car’s engine clean and working longer and more fluently.

It is suggested that newer cars are kept cleaner by using these detergents to not only keep their parts running longer, but to keep them under the current emission standards required for inspections. Carmakers hope that by raising the standards themselves, they can keep their cars on the road longer and save the consumer money in the long run. “Gasoline with more detergent cleans engines better,” said Tony Molla, vice president of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which certifies mechanics. Cars that use solely generic brand gas will find a higher build up of sludge on these parts, in turn slowing down the engine, and making the parts work harder, also causing them to burn out quicker.

So let’s put this in simpler terms. Newer cars, from makers, BMW, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Audi, are highly recommended to use name brand gas. A few of these stations include, USA Gas, Chevron, Shell, Exxon, Kwik Trip/ Kwik Star, Mobil, BP, Texaco and USA Oil. Older models are recommended to run on cleaner gas from these stations, depending all of course on how long you would like your car to run. Brand name gas may not necessarily mean more miles per gallon, but it can mean longer life on your car and its parts including the fuel injectors, engine, intake valves, and combustion chambers.

Many times we find ourselves blaming car manufacturers when our car parts go but these companies raising the standards show a sense of loyalty to their customers and consideration. So, if you want your car to stay clean and live a long life, shelling out a few extra cents at the pump may actually end up saving you money in the long run.