Make us your home page

Is brand-name gas better?

Roy Crowley of West Palm Beach, like many motorists, tends to buy gasoline at name-brand stations, figuring it's worth a few extra cents per gallon to get a higher-quality product. But is it really?

"The price difference between one brand and another can be substantial," Crowley said. "Is there really a difference?"

The answer: It depends on whom you ask.

If you ask someone who sells Shell gas, for example, that person would point to the brand's expensive advertising campaign that touts the fact that "Shell V-Power premium gasoline boasts the highest concentration of the patented Shell Nitrogen Enriched cleaning system, with five times the amount of cleaning agents required by federal government standards."

What does that mean, and does that make it the best?

The readers of Popular Mechanics just voted Shell as the best gas for the second year in the row, so somebody is paying attention to all that nitrogen-enriched advertising.

But the answers are more complicated than a magazine poll can answer.

The impression of many motorists is that certain brands of gasoline are refined at their own refineries — that Shell gas is Shell gas from the minute it is derived from crude oil. But this is seldom the case.

In fact, gasoline is gasoline as it flows through the pipeline to a terminal, where it is picked up by various tanker trucks. That is where Shell, for instance, becomes Shell — when the additive package is mixed into the gasoline. Other brands have their own exclusive, top-secret additive packages, most of which contain the brand's proprietary formula for detergents.

But off-brand gasoline, sold by small or independent dealers, gets an additive package, too, likely a generic one developed by the company that owns the terminal.

Think of Kool-Aid: It all starts with the same water, until different packages are poured into the water to make a special flavor.

And in the case of gasoline, standard grades — from regular to premium to high octane — must all meet federal guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

There's little doubt, though, that the cheapest gas is seldom sold by the major oil companies. According to, in Crowley's West Palm Beach neighborhood, RaceTrac and Murphy USA, two relatively minor players, recently priced regular gas at a full 10 cents per gallon less than Shell.

That said, there is an amalgamation of gasoline brands beneath the "Top Tier" banner ( Six auto manufacturers — BMW, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen and Audi — tout Top Tier gas suppliers. Their contention is, as Top Tier says, the "current EPA minimum detergent requirements do not go far enough to ensure optimal engine performance."

So the Top Tier brands, of which Shell is one, pledge that they will exceed the EPA minimums. Top Tier claims that "many gasoline retailers provide fuels with lower-quality additive packages that can build up deposits on fuel injectors and on intake valves. Others can build up deposits in combustion chambers and may lead to intake valve sticking. These lower levels of additives can have negative impacts on engine performance and vehicle responsiveness."

So what are the Top Tier retailers? Many are regional chains; some are national. Among them: 76, Phillips 66, Chevron, QuikTrip, Conoco, Shell, Exxon, Texaco and Mobil.

Is brand-name gas better? 01/27/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Orlando Sentinel.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa is 15th-most popular city to move to with U-Haul


    TAMPA —Tampa is undoubtedly a destination point, at least according to U-Haul.

    Tampa is the No. 15 destination for people moving with U-Haul trucks. | Times file photo
  2. Florida's economy growing faster than other big states and far better than U.S. overall


    When it comes to economic growth, Florida's running alongside the leading states and well ahead of the United States as a whole.

  3. Westshore Marina District project takes shape with another acquisition

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — One of Tampa Bay's prime waterfront areas took another major step toward redevelopment Friday as WCI Communities bought 2.35 acres in Westshore Marina District.

    WCI Communities, Lennar's high-end subsidiary,has paid $2.5 million for 2.35 acres in the Westshore Marina District for 35 townhomes. WCI is under contract  to buy an additional 9.5 acres.
[BTI Partners]
  4. Posh Guy Harvey RV park to open in Tampa Bay with $250,000 cottages


    HOLIDAY — Love those Guy Harvey T-shirts with the soaring marlins? In the not too distant future, you might be able to kick back in your own Guy Harvey cottage in the first-ever Guy Harvey RV park.

    Renderings of the clubhouse and an RV cottage site of the planned Guy Harvey Outpost Club & Resort Tarpon Springs.
[Guy Harvey Outpost Collection]
  5. Port Tampa Bay secures $9 million grant to deepen Big Bend Channel


    Port Tampa Bay has secured a $9 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel in southern Hillsborough County.