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Is Top Tier gas better for your car?

Top Tier Detergent Gasoline promises to keep your engine a lot cleaner, without a lot of additional cost.

By Stacy Johnson Aug 29, 2012 3:39PM

This post come from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyWe broke a record recently . . . for gas prices. The national average for a gallon of gas was $3.74 -- a record for the time of year and 16 cents higher than the same time last year, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.


Cheapskate that I am, I've bought gas at some questionable locations, like the gas station that didn't have a brand, just a sign that read "GAS!" under a giant inflatable gorilla. Like most drivers, I'm all about price, never giving much thought to quality. After all, gas is gas, right?


Well, maybe not. In this video, Stacy Johnson discusses Top Tier Detergent Gasoline, a special blend with additives that's supposed to help your car. Take a look, then continue reading below.

What exactly is Top Tier?

Image: Filling fuel tank (© Corbis)At first glance, Top Tier may seem like another way of saying "premium." But that's not the case. Premium is gasoline with a higher octane rating. Octanes are a group of hydrocarbons added to gas to slow down the fuel's urge to self-ignite. They simply help engines run without pinging or knocking. Car manufacturers recommend premium gasoline for some cars, but many don't need it. And if your car is rated for a lower octane, buying premium offers no benefit.


Top Tier gas is a special blend promoted by General Motors, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Audi, and Volkswagen. It contains detergent additives designed to reduce the buildup of engine deposits. Top Tier can be any octane rating.


Does it work?

While there's no denying that Top Tier gas has added cleaning agents, there is debate as to whether they make a distinguishable difference. All gasoline has to contain enough detergent additives to meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Top Tier simply has more. You can read opposing viewpoints in this USA Today article.


As you saw in the video, mechanic Pam Oakes says Top Tier gas does clean carbon out of your engine and is worth buying. She says she's seen the difference it can make with her own eyes. 


The bottom line: Top Tier could help your engine and won't hurt it. And since Top Tier gas costs refiners only about a penny more per gallon to produce than traditional blends -- unlike premium -- it shouldn't set you back much more at the pump.

Where to find it

The list of retailers offering Top Tier can change, but you can always find it on the Top Tier site here. The current list:

  • 76 Stations
  • Aloha Petroleum
  • Chevron
  • Conoco
  • CountryMark
  • Entec Stations
  • Exxon
  • Hawaii Fueling Network (HFN)
  • Holiday Stationstores Inc.
  • Kwik Trip/Kwik Star
  • MFA Oil
  • Mileage Stations
  • Mobil
  • Ohana Fuels
  • Phillips 66
  • Quik Trip
  • Rebel Oil
  • Road Ranger
  • Severson Oil
  • Shell
  • Texaco
  • Tri-Par Oil
  • U.S. Oil

Have you used Top Tier gas? Did it make a difference? Leave a comment below.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Aug 30, 2012 5:58AM
Here in North Georgia,,I have seen,with my own eyes at the pumping stations,fuel trucks from every brand,,filling their trucks,which indicates to me that we are basically using the same fuel across the board.I work directly with chemical engineers blending race fuel,so I understand what goes into a lot of the fuels we purchase at our local stations.One thing we also have here is a list of alcohol free stations,which by the way,is the MOST detremental additive to todays gasoline.unless the consumer takes the necessary steps to properly treat ethenol based fuel,over a period of time,,the ethenol will deterioate a fuel system.After talking to a lot of these engineers,I have found,,that it's not so much the additive packages,,as much as it is how the fuel is stored at the lower tier stations and how it is filtered going into the consumers fuel system.I have gotton quality 93 octane for my street rods from the lower tier stations,,without experiencing any issues,,by the same token,,I have stopped at Chevron stations that weren't properly cared for and had one of engines run like crap.I think it comes down to being consistant where you purchase fuel on a daily basis,, so you learn to know and trust that station.Todays fuels,are very complex hydrocarbon chains and like noted the additive packages are dictated by the EPA and other regulatory branches of the government.As a GM tech for 45 years we were constantly given lists of top tier fueling stations because of how the newer engines were designed,,I never followed those lists,,because I bought fuel at the same station consistantly,,because,,,I run high horsepower engines in my street rods,,more often than not,,I blend my own fuel so my engine runs correctly,,but my base fuel has been from a lower tier station.The trick,,,if you find a station that has fuel that your vehicle runs good on,,,stick with it,,just because you find a bargain,,and it doesn't matter from where,,just because it's 10 cents cheaper,,don't be tempted thinking your saving.You might find out that the gasoline is junk and you spend a week,,trying to run it out of your tank.
Aug 31, 2012 7:07AM
I use Top Tier gas because I know it will be good gas. In order for a brand to carry that classification every pump at every station in the country has to to meet the Top Tier criteria. Having experienced engine problems because of bad gas, I know paying a little more per tank of bad gas is cheaper than engine repairs.  I look at it as being similar to insurance: spend a little along the way to avoid spending a lot later. 
Jan 2, 2013 1:14PM
Our Passat is in for deposit cleaning...$1000.00. Use top tier with direct injection gas or 2.0T FSI or TSI VW/Audi engines!
Aug 29, 2012 9:51PM
If your out in the mid south/midwest avoid Speedway/Marathon, & thorntons gas. Their gas has been tested to have 1-3ppm above what the epa sets as a minimum. When i lived in kentucky the low detergent brands were abundant in the poorer areas. once I moved out of state & went back for a visit my car ran awful with that stuff in it. Not saying you have to buy the "top tier" but you want to avoid the "low tier".
Sep 14, 2012 9:07PM

Top Tier is garbage for the most part. As a tuner, who works very closely with other tuners, we recommend just 3 brands of gas; Exxon, Mobil or BP (Exxon/Mobil didn't used to considered Top Tier). Sunoco is iffy. Shell is the absolute worst gas on the planet, and most cars will show knock retard using it. For those who don't know, detergents don't burn. They destroy octane. Any of the cleaners in gas or the off the shelf cleaners are horrible for performance. We never recommend using them, under ANY circumstances. Your car WILL knock with them in the tank, whether its a POS Corolla, or a Hi-Po Porsche. If you don't believe it, buy a Data logger and see what the knock sensors are doing.


For my CTS-V, its never had anything in its tank other then BP Amoco Ultimate. I used to use Exxon and Mobil in my SRT8s, but since they always cost more, no sense in using them any more.

Sep 14, 2012 6:42PM
I am not partial to a particular brand of gas, always buy the cheapest gas I can find, and in 40 years of owning vehicles, have NEVER had a gasoline quality related problem.  I have owned everything from motorcycles to high-performance cars to economy cars to pickups.  I believe that most engine problems are related more to the quality and regularity of maintenance and driving style, not the gas you use, the oil you use, or the brand of vehicle.  If you halfway maintain your vehicle and don't drive like a maniac, almost any modern vehicle will last at least 200K miles, if not more. 
Aug 29, 2012 11:53PM

 I don't believe that gasoline additives make any real difference that can be documented.  The very USA Today article states "All gasoline should be adequate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires a certain level of engine-cleaning additives in gasoline. And bulk gasoline before the additives go in must meet certain industry standards. But Shell and others trying to distinguish themselves from the discounters say that fuel meeting just those minimum standards won't keep your engine clean."

"Ford Motor, not in the Top Tier coalition, says right on its gasoline caps, "Ford recommends BP," not a Top Tier brand. "Their fuel meets or exceeds what our vehicles require. We know their products" from collaborating on lubricant and fuel research, says Ford spokesman Said Deep.


 It's simply snake oil, if it makes you feel better buy it but rest assured it's waste of money. o test has eveproved hat it makes any appreciable difference.

Aug 30, 2012 8:44PM
Just one word description:  Nonsense!
depending on the car, some can only use regular and others can only use premium, especially if they engines are computerized.

in regards to bad gas, i think that all gas stations are prone to contamination because the tanks are accessible to the public and anyone can pour liquid into them (or steal gas through from them)

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