This Is the Real Difference Between Unbranded and Branded Gasoline

You might want to spend the extra money for the best quality fuel.

GasolineSyda Productions/Shutterstock If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a real difference between the gas you get at branded stations, like Shell or Citgo versus unbranded stations, like your local town station, you’re not alone. Are we getting better gas at branded stations? Why are local, privately owned stations sometimes cheaper? Does that mean the quality of the gas is affected? We spoke with car experts and auto mechanics to find out.

The short answer? Yes, there’s a definitely a difference between the two—and your best bet is probably the branded gas. “[Branded] gasoline is absolutely the best. It’s filtered way better than the unbranded gas you might get at other gas stations,” says Julian White, a private auto mechanic based in Wilton, Connecticut. “Unbranded contains a lot of water and other little contaminants that could cause your car to run poorly.” White also notes that despite purchasing a certain type of gas at an unbranded gas station, such as premium 93 octane, there is a good chance that’s not what you’re actually getting. (By the way, here’s why not all cars have gas tanks that are on the same side.)

Who would want to spend more money than we already do on gas? Well, as it turns out, spending the extra money now might save you a ton when you need to have repairs done or you start reaching higher mileage. “[Branded] gas is more expensive because it’s carefully filtered,” White continues. “You won’t be getting the water and dirt that comes in [unbranded] gas.”

According to Matt Banach, Brand Creative Director at Gold Eagle Co., you should specifically be on the lookout for Tier 1 gasoline. “Top Tier is a standardized quality that ensures you are getting fuel with a minimum amount of detergent to keep your car running at top performance,” says Banach. “If you’re not buying Top Tier you may be buying a fuel that is going to leave deposits throughout your fuel system which over time will cause poor idle and poor fuel economy. By not buying Top Tier you are really gambling on the quality of the fuel you are buying, which can negatively affect your car over time.” You’ll want to read up on these car maintenance tips that extend the life of your car either way.

In fact, AAA tested out this theory in a study and discovered that cars that “operated on a TOP TIER gasoline averaged 19 times fewer intake valve deposits than when it was operated on non-TOP TIER gasoline.” AAA also notes that “most TOP TIER gasolines do not cost significantly more than non-TOP TIER gasoline. The average price difference between the TOP TIER and non-TOP TIER brands surveyed was three cents per gallon over a 12-month period.” In other words? The branded gas is definitely worth it.

Brittany Gibson
Brittany Gibson is a regular contributor to RD.com’s culture, food, health, and travel sections. She was previously an editorial intern for RD.com and Westchester Magazine. Her articles have appeared on Buzzfeed, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, and MSN, among other sites. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut