VERIFY: Can’t find gas? You can upgrade but not downgrade octanes

The Colonial Pipeline outage forced drivers to take what they could find. Fuel experts agree you can fill up with a higher-grade gas but not lower.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Let’s fill up the truth tank pertaining to your gas tank and pump out the fiction to drive home the facts. 

Last month’s Colonial Pipeline hack, which prompted gas supply shortages and subsequent panic buying, uncovered fuel misconceptions. 

If my car takes regular gas, but the gas station is out of regular gas, is it true I can use premium instead, without damaging my car?

The gas grades have different octane ratings, which measure fuel stability — the pressure at which fuel will combust. Regular is the lowest-octane fuel, usually 87. Midgrade (plus) is a middle-range octane, 89 to 90. Premium is the highest-octane, 91 to 94. Experts agree — yes, you can give your car an upgrade on gas but not a downgrade.

“The thing is, you can fill up your vehicle with a higher octane than needed, just don’t fill it up with a lower octane or diesel. Both of those situations could run into some pretty major headaches,” explained fuel analyst Patrick De Haan.

Roy agreed putting diesel into a gasoline car will ruin the engine, but using premium is fine — at least in the short-run.

“You may hear some spark knocking (a ‘ting-ting-ting’) sound, but it won’t hurt anything, if it just one tank of gas to get by,” said certified auto technician Cynthia Roy.

But, just because you can put premium in a regular tank doesn’t mean you should make it regular occurrence, and the premium gas won’t help your car run any differently.

“You’re just flushing money down the toilet,” De Haan said.

He explained, “You might get a very slight increase in fuel economy. There are additional additives blended into those higher-octane fuels, but essentially, if your car has been programmed from the factory to run on regular, it is not able to take advantage of what higher-octane ratings can offer.”

RELATED: VERIFY: Low gas tank won’t hurt your car

Yes, you can put premium or mid-grade gas in a car that takes regular, if your station is out of regular gas — but not vice-versa.

Do you have a VERIFY inquiry? Submit a selfie video of your question, along with any supplementary links or pictures pertaining to the claim, to:

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