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Sales of premium gas fall as prices rise

Demand for high-octane fuel is at its lowest in nearly a quarter of a century and is now primarily consumed by a core group of luxury vehicle owners — and even some of them are putting lower-grade fuel into their tanks to save money.

In 1997, high-octane garnered 16 percent of the nationwide fuel market share, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Last month, premium had only 8 percent of the market. Last year, premium gasoline consumption fell to about 35.6-million gallons of gas per day, the lowest in 24 years, the agency said.

With premium gasoline in the Tampa Bay area averaging close to $4.39 a gallon — 41 cents more than regular — who is buying this stuff?

Many luxury and high-performance cars call for premium fuel, and other cars call for mid-grade. In those cars, burning lower octane fuel can cause problems like engine knock.

So what kind of gas should I be burning?

Check your manual. Most cars take regular. Burning premium or mid-grade isn't a "treat" for regular-burning cars, and doesn't make it run better, according to Consumer Reports. The Federal Trade Commission says using a higher octane than recommended has "absolutely no benefit." Consumer Reports concluded that burning lower-octane fuel would not hurt performance of most cars, even those that call for higher octane. Ask your dealership or mechanic about burning lower-octane fuel.

If so few people are buying it, will gas stations continue to sell it?

Yes, said Jim Smith, president of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association. Retailers will continue to carry it even though premium has dropped to as little as 4 percent of sales at some stations, Smith said. At many stations, the mid-grade is blended at the pump from tanks of regular and premium, so retailers have to carry premium in order to sell mid-grade. "They'll always be offering it because there will always be people wanting it."

Times staff writer Asjylyn Loder contributed to this report.

Sales of premium gas fall as prices rise 06/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 4:14pm]
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