Triad Magazine

A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.

Out of Gas

Photo credit: Benjamin Stein
Highway 7

~ Joseph Meier

Silver, gold, platinum; these high grade fuels cost more and make big promises. Unfortunately, the so-called premium gasolines may not deliver in all car models. With Secretary of Energy, Chew supporting high gas prices, President Obama reducing federal drilling leases, and continuing instability in the Middle East, energy pricing is extremely volatile. Thrift has become a necessity. Knowing more about the car you drive and modern mechanics might help ease the financial pressure at the pump. Understanding the grades of gas, compression ratios, and how the two work together in your engine may literally help everyone get more bang for their buck.

Consumers might be surprised to know that the higher grades of gas are actually more difficult to ignite. During the refining process, each individual barrel of crude oil will produce a myriad of different products: gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and an assortment of plastics. Each of these products require varying degrees of heat and pressure to ignite. These products are as diverse as their applications. When it comes to saving money at the pump, application is everything.

Compression ratio and forced-air induction are crucial in the practical application of different fuel grades. As previously stated, the expensive gas does not combust easily. It is for this reason that 93 Octane is the preferred fuel for high performance vehicles. The compression ratio measures how much air is displaced as the piston rises to its Top Dead Center (TDC). At this point, the spark plug will ignite the air-fuel mixture. Most all performance car websites discuss compression ratios and how they relate to power. According to the well-known car enthusiast website, “At least 150hp of a Pro Stock engine is due to ultra-high compression ratios.” More pressure equals more power.

The same affect can be achieved by forcing air into the cylinder from outside of the engine. Forced-air induction systems are more commonly known as turbo and super chargers. They both achieve the same goal but by different means. The less combustible fuels must be used in high compression engines. In high compression engines, the lower grade fuels will combust before the piston reaches its TDC. This will cause an odd sound known as engine ping. The inconvenient truth, for those in the hydrocarbon industry, is that most cars do not require premium gas and will not benefit from it.

John Miller, a twenty-year employee of Penske, has spent a fair part of his life immersed in the world of auto mechanics. When asked if putting premium gas in a typical economy class vehicle was a waste of money, he responded, “Absolutely, absolutely.” Mr. Miller spoke about octane levels and how they related to compression ratios saying, “Compression ratios dictate what octane rating you should use.” In his opinion, a compression ratio of 9.5 to 1 is the premium gas threshold; anything under will not deliver the result for the extravagant cost. Do you know the compression ratio of your car?

The owner’s manual will, in most cases, identify the compression ratio and whether or not the car has a forced-air induction system. The internet is also a good resource. According to Mr. Miller, the owner’s manual may suggest a higher grade of gas than your vehicle actually needs. Apparently, he followed the manufacturer’s prescribed fuel choice, until he learned more about his powertrain. Miller’s research combined with his own knowledge of fuel and mechanics led him to save money. Are you throwing money away on the expensive gas?

Silver, gold, platinum, these words imply quality and promise performance, but deliver question and conjecture. Bottom line, sometimes knowledge means money.

2 comments on “Out of Gas

  1. tommyeliason
    February 26, 2013

    It seems like no matter what vehicle you drive you can’t escape horrible gas prices. We shovel out more and more money each day for fuel due to the rising prices. All of these different “grades” of fuel can be confusing and it’s good to learn what they are all about. This article does a good job in telling readers how to find out about what fuel that can best benefit their vehicle. Having an older car that requires a somewhat more than average amount of gas, this article is very informative.

  2. Alexandria Harrington
    April 26, 2013

    I never quite understood why people would spend extra money for the “gold” or “platinum” gas. I guess now it all makes sense; those people spending the extra money just don’t have the knowledge of others. The different aspects of a car are unique to each make and model. This article has made me realize that it’s not always about buying what someone tells you to, but rather to research for yourself and choose the best option. I appreciate the information that was presented and hopefully this will knock some sense into the people who continually go for the higher price option of gas.

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