Fueling informed decisions

By Greg Brannon, Director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations, AAA | August 2016

It’s not surprising that gasoline is the number one topic of discussion for AAA, considering that 96 percent of U.S. motorists typically drive a vehicle that uses gas. Fuel comprises nearly 15 percent of the annual cost of vehicle ownership, so consumers, naturally, want to understand what impacts gas prices. But they also want to know how to improve fuel economy, which gas is best for their vehicle, and if their fuel choice could harm the vehicle.

My role as the director of Automotive Engineering for AAA is to provide those answers. Our team conducts proprietary research to better understand consumer implications of automotive technology, design, and functionality. This spans topics as diverse as advanced driver assistance systems, new features such as self-parking, and a variety of fuel related issues.

Fuel is such an important consumer issue that we’ve conducted a series of research projects in an effort to help motorists make educated driving and purchasing decisions. Our research has demonstrated that electric vehicle range can be reduced by an average of 57 percent due to temperature fluctuations; eight out of 10 drivers reported fuel economy better than Environmental Protection Agency estimates; and automatic stop-start systems provide a 5 to 7 percent improvement in fuel economy.

One commonly asked question we’ve recently addressed is the impact of enhanced detergent additives, such as those included in TOP TIER™ fuels. AAA’s research showed that 63 percent of motorists believe there is a difference in the quality of gasoline. We wanted to determine the extent to which enhanced detergent additives are beneficial, and how fuel choice can affect a vehicle’s performance.

AAA's independent laboratory testing compared gasolines that meet TOP TIER™ standards with brands that do not participate in the program. To measure intake valve and combustion chamber deposits, AAA engaged the services of an independent International Standards Organization 17025-certified engine testing lab to perform an ASTM standard test on fuels. The research was funded completely by AAA and was not associated with the TOP TIER™ program or its supporting auto manufacturers.

Among brands tested, non-TOP TIER™ gasolines caused 19 times more intake valve deposits than TOP TIER™ brands after just 4,000 miles of simulated driving. Plus, long-term use of a gasoline without an enhanced additive package can lead to reductions in fuel economy of 2 to 4 percent, drivability issues, and increased emissions.

Our tests also showed that consumers can reverse some engine deposits simply by switching to a TOP TIER™ gasoline. AAA’s research found that performance issues like rough idling or hesitation during acceleration can often be resolved after driving a few thousand miles with gas that meets TOP TIER™ standards.

Through this research, AAA was able to reassure consumers that, by selecting a quality gasoline, they can minimize engine deposits, increase vehicle performance and improve fuel economy for only pennies more per gallon. Considering the investment required to own and operate a vehicle, better informed consumers can get more miles for their money.

Read more from the August Issue of our Fuel for Thought newsletter.