Down in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, there’s a little outpost of late 20th-century automotive culture. Accepting only cash, Hatoff’s gas and service station is known around the city for consistently providing some of the cheapest gasoline you can find. It’s hard to imagine impatient New Englanders willing to walk away from their car, ask the man behind bulletproof glass for “$20 on pump 4,” and watch as the numbers on an ancient pump slowly climb—but without fail, Stan Hatoff’s station is one of the busiest in Boston.
“Gas is Gas,” reads the sign painted on the station’s carport. It’s compelling logic; why pay more at one of those fancy Mobil, Shell, or other so-called “top-tier” gas stations when you can save some money by slumming it at old Hatoff’s? After all, the cheerful, smiling man on the sign, tipping his hat to passing motorists, is surely more inviting than the militaristic stripes of your typical Chevron station. If the price is right, will you even notice the difference between Hatoff’s stuff and the more expensive fuel across town? Gas is gas, right?
Well, according to a new study conducted by the American Automobile Association—or AAA, as most know it—all gas is not created equal.
Gasoline production is broken down into three steps. (We’re speaking very generally, here. A ton of work goes into just getting the stuff.) First, crude oil is extracted from the ground. Then, the oil is sent to refineries around the country, where it is—you guessed it—refined into what we recognize as gasoline. Finally, once an order has been placed for the gasoline, it is combined with detergent additives packages and shipped out to retailers.
The thing is, not all retailers sell gas with those additives. Most big-name gas stations do—your BPs, Texacos, Valeros—but other, smaller stations sometimes forgo the extra expense. These additives have been in use for over 20 years, and on average, top-tier gasoline costs roughly 3 cents more per gallon than non-top-tier gas.
I don’t know where Hatoff gets its gas, but the findings from AAA’s study prove that “gas” isn’t always just “gas,” and that fuel supplemented with a detergent additive generated up to 19 times fewer carbon deposits on engine intakes (namely, fuel injectors, intake valves, and the walls of the combustion chambers) than did non-top-tier fuel. Beyond that, continuing to drive on non-top-tier fuel can hurt fuel economy anywhere from 2-4%.
Roughly 6 out of every 10 drivers readily acknowledge that gasoline quality differs based on the provider, but just over 1 out of 10 admit to purchasing gas based on an assumption of quality—nearly three quarters of drivers choose their gas stations based on proximity and price. Independent, old-school gas stations are an automotive relic to be cherished, but shouldn’t improved engine performance and fuel economy trump lower prices?
Will you go out of your way or pay a few cents more to fill up your car with top-tier gasoline?