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Is it worth paying more for premium fuel?

When you pull up to the pumps these days, even at the supermarket filling stations, you are faced with a choice – standard fuel or a premium alternative that makes all kinds of claims for economy and performance. It’s easy to worry that you are somehow missing out by opting for the cheaper alternative, but does it really make that much difference?

How does premium fuel affect performance

The first thing to remember is that premium fuel will not magically convert your 1.4 litre Focus into a supercar. The vast majority of cars on the road will not perform any differently with a premium fuel than with the standard version. Their engines are simply not built to deliver much more power and performance than you are already getting. And let’s face it, if performance was really that important to you, you probably wouldn’t have bought a small family car in the first place.

On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to own a performance car, then you will notice a difference when you use premium, or higher octane fuel. Performance cars have higher cylinder pressures and compression ratios, and are capable of running at higher temperatures that can squeeze a noticeable difference out of the premium fuel.

The cleaning power of premium fuel

As well as offering improved performance, many premium fuels, such as Shell V-Power and BP Ultimate, claim to have vital detergents that clean your engine as they go through, extending engine life and reducing problems. They also have special chemicals designed to lessen the friction in your engine, adding to its longevity.

While it is true that this aspect of premium fuels will work for most cars, you don’t have to use it all the time to benefit. Filling up with premium fuel every fourth or fifth tank should be more than enough to clean your engine of carbon and other deposits and keep it running smoothly.

Fuel economy or false economy

Another selling point of premium fuels is that they give you better fuel economy. This is because the higher octane fuels burn more efficiently, giving you more power for every litre. But again, the saving you make very much depends on what you drive and how you drive.

If you have an average family car and do mostly short trips on the school run and shopping, then chances are you won’t notice any difference. In fact, at around 8.5p per litre more, you will probably be worse off at the end of the day. On the other hand, if you are regularly doing long journeys in a larger, executive car, then you will probably notice a significant difference of around £5 per tank – which if you are driving a lot, can soon add up.

Every car and every driver is different, so the only way to really tell if premium fuel will save you money is to try it for yourself. Fill up a few times and see how many miles you get compared to standard fuel, and compare the extra miles to the extra cost.

So are premium fuels worth the money?

With fuel prices already high enough, paying an extra 8.5p per litre is not something anyone is in a hurry to do, and fortunately you probably don’t need to. According to Matthew Minter, from the Haynes motor manuals, “99% of cars will probably work perfectly well on standard fuel.”

Of course, if you can afford to drive a Ferrari, then the cost of fuel is probably not an issue for you in the first place, so you can afford the extra cost to squeeze that little extra performance out of your Italian thoroughbred. But for most of us, you can rest assured that picking the cheaper fuel will not mean you are missing out.

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