Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 213 - The Hidden Cost of Cheap Gas

May 12, 2011

Day 213 - The Hidden Cost of Cheap Gas
Salvatore Vuono /

With the steadily increasing price of gasoline across the country, many people have made a concerted effort to find the cheapest gas prices in their area. Websites such as have been highly touted by reputable news sources as extremely effective in your quest for cheap gas. Way back when gas cost $3.91 a gallon in San Diego, I discussed Ways to Save, including using the internet to find the cheapest gas in town. The 76 station near my house - and where I buy 95% of my gas - is one of the cheapest stations (even cheaper when you pay with cash).

I own a 100% paid-for 2005 Subaru Forester with 55,000 miles. Up to now, the only major repairs I have had done- aside from oil changes and scheduled maintenance - are replacing the fog lights and buying a new set of tires. Last week my beloved Subaru began to idle erratically. By the next day, it was dying at every stop light and the check engine light was staring me down. Luckily my very first car - a 1975 orange Volkswagon Beetle with cow-print seat covers - also enjoyed dying at stop lights so my heel on the gas/toe on the break technique has been perfected. I heel/toed it all the way to my Subaru mechanic and was told that a $300 repair was ahead of me because the fuel line was gunked up due to using low quality gas. Unsure of exactly what this meant, I grilled the mechanic for more details. Below is a summary of my understanding. Note that certain words, such as gunk, are my interpretation of mechanic lingo. For a more scientific explanation, click here.

What is low quality gas? Different brands of gas use different quality levels of gas/additive mixtures. Typically the cheaper brands of gas are not as "clean" and are therefore more likely to build up gunk much faster than a brand that includes a richer mix of detergent additives. The mechanic recommends only using brands of gas known to be "cleaner" than others. Brands specifically mentioned as clean were Shell and Chevron. These brands do typically cost a little more but are apparently worth it.

What about the gas grade? Unleaded gas comes in multiple grades - 87,89 and 91 are most common here in Southern California. According to the mechanic, you should use the grade recommended for your car type (usually can be found in the owner's manual). As a general rule, higher performance cars such as BMW or Mercedes require a higher grade of unleaded gasoline. My Subaru is fine with the 87 grade. So if I understand correctly, moving up in grade would not necessarily be worth the extra cost for me.

The caveat. All of this information is based on my discussion with my mechanic. And BEWARE the "cheap stuff" - it may end up costing you in the long run!!!

Do you agree with my mechanic? Post a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Stay tuned,

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