Gas Grades, Octane and Your Car

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Gas Grades, Octane and Your Car

Pull up to a service station pump and you’ll typically be confronted with three gasoline choices: regular, midgrade and premium. Each of the gas grades represents octane levels, which impacts your car’s performance. Choosing the right grade for your car means following the manufacturer’s requirements, your budget and reaping the benefits of choosing a preferred grade.

Octane Defined

Gas grades are determined by octane levels. Usually, those ratings are 86 or 87 for regular grade, 89 for midgrade and 91 to 93 for premium grade.

Gasoline’s octane rating is a measurement of fuel’s ability to resist knock or the shock waves that begin in the combustion chamber and vibrate the entire engine. In some cases, knock can damage valves and pistons.

What Your Manufacturer Says

Purchase a car and you should familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual. This is critical if the car is still under warranty. You need to operate the vehicle in such a way as to refrain from voiding the warranty.

The manufacturer explicitly outlines what type of fuel your car requires. Pay attention to two key words – “recommended” and “required.”

If a certain fuel is recommended, that’s the gas grade you should choose to optimize fuel economy and performance. Usually, the recommended level is regular grade and you could also choose to select any grade above it.

If a specific fuel is required, then you must choose that grade. You’ll find such a requirement for high-performance engines where premium fuel is necessary to optimize its operation. Select a lower grade and you may damage the engine and thereby void the warranty. Such engines are designed to burn gasoline at higher pressures and temperatures, and need premium fuel to operate under harsh conditions, such as during hard acceleration.

Performance and Your Budget

For owners who have latitude in their preferred gas grade, choosing a higher grade may come down to budget: paying an extra 10 to 50 cents per gallon for higher octane fuel. At the same time, there may be no benefit in choosing a higher grade, especially if performance remains the same.

Instead of spending money on an expensive fuel type with no real benefit, employ those funds for what matters — oil changes, coolant flushes, brakes and other maintenance due items.

If you desire to squeeze more power from your car, consider such upgrades as an exhaust system kit for improved acceleration and fuel economy and a sweeter exhaust note. Other upgrades include high-performance headers or an enhanced intake manifold.

Your Gasoline Brand

Finally, there is another factor in choosing gasoline — the brand. Like the majority of consumers, you might have endured years of hype from oil companies claiming their fuel is superior. There is truth in such pronouncements after all.

It turns out that so-called “top tier” gasoline is preferable for your car. Developed in 2004, top tier gasoline provides superior detergents to reduce engine carbon buildup and deposits in addition to burning cleaner and improving fuel economy.

Automakers such a Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen back fuels produced by retailers including BP, Exxon-Mobil and Shell. You’ll pay a bit more for such gas — typically three cents per gallon according to Consumer Reports — but the long-term benefit may extend the life of your engine.

So, what’s the bottom line? Choose the right gasoline for your car and along with your usual care, you’ll ensure it runs optimally.

Four Car Battery Maintenance Tips

You’re in luck — car battery maintenance is one of the easier types of DIY work you’ll encounter with an automobile. While some modern battery designs are called maintenance-free, this really only means they don’t have to be filled with water like the maintenance accessible designs used in the past. You still have to keep up with the proper storage, cleanliness and inspection cycle on a maintenance-free design as you would with any other battery, so it helps to know what to watch out for.

Check out these four quick and easy car battery maintenance tips:

1. Keep Terminals Clean

Corrosion on battery terminals can be caused by many things, for example, exposure to salt in the air from the ocean or spray from winter roads, gases that are naturally vented by certain types of batteries and hard use or repeated jump-starting. If you see corrosion on your battery terminals, use a wire brush to clean it off completely, thus preserving a strong connection between your cables and the battery.

2. Keep an Eye on Voltage

A battery that’s having trouble keeping a charge, or isn’t charging as strong as it used to, is a sign that it could be on its way out. It could also be an indication that there’s a problem with your alternator that you need to deal with before it damages your battery. Keep an eye on your car’s voltage needle and note any unusual behavior. If your vehicle doesn’t come with this gauge, use a multi-meter every month or two to check the charging voltage right at the terminals.

3. Watch for Warning Signs

Batteries can become damaged in any number of ways. If you see any leaks, cracks or deformation of the battery case, it’s time to replace it. Give the terminals a good cleaning. Look for damaged, loose or corroded terminals. A damaged battery, in a worst case scenario, can build up or leak hydrogen gas (a by-product of the chemical reaction inside) that if exposed to a spark when charging, jump-starting or even turning the key in your ignition, can explode and cause injury.

4. Store Batteries Properly

Proper car battery maintenance also means storing a battery properly if it’s outside of the vehicle. The best environment is room temperature in a well-ventilated room. You want to make sure that there’s no chance any gases expelled by the battery can build up in an enclosed space. You may also want to leave the battery on a trickle charge — using a “smart” charger. If it’s going to be stored for a long period in colder temperatures, its best to keep it fully charged

Follow these battery maintenance tips and you may be able to avoid seeing those jumper cables.

The Average Life of Brake Pads

Brakes — you need them and they need you. Staying on top of brake condition is an integral part of keeping your ride safe. The average life of brake pads and shoes varies greatly based on a number of factors, some of them well within your control.

Luckily, there are a few simple rules you can apply to the way you drive today that might save you big time down the road.

Lay Off

The less you use them, the less often you’ll have to replace them, and you’ll also reduce your risk of grinding too far down and causing mechanical nightmares.

There are a number of ways to do this without breaking the law. For one, know your roads. That stop sign is still in the same place it was yesterday. Why not stop accelerating a little earlier on the approach so you don’t have to brake as soon or as hard as you would if you’d driven all the way up to it?

Don’t Be a Zombie

Paying attention while driving should be a given, right? But if you’re in stop and go traffic you may be overusing your brakes. You can coast as much as possible instead of doing the speed-up, slow-down tango all afternoon. It’s a vicious cycle, rise above it.

Don’t Hoard

Not in your vehicle, at least. The less weight you carry with you, the less effort your car expends trying to stop. Imagine standing at the end of a bowling alley trying to stop a bunch of well-hurled bowling balls. Now imagine they were ping-pongs. Better, right? Your brakes think so too. Bonus points — lighter vehicles also get better mileage. Winning all around.

Timing Is Everything

City driving calls for much more frequent braking than driving on the highway does, but you can cut back by noticing that yellow light before it turns red and laying off the accelerator, allowing your vehicle to come to a stop by itself as much as possible. When you’re in traffic, look farther ahead than the car in front of you to anticipate the slower patches and you might be able to employ a little coasting instead to mitigate the difference.

No Sudden Stops

Probably the worst thing you can do that wear out your brakes is making sudden stops from high speeds. It takes a lot of energy to stop something as big as your car, and it creates a ton of heat along the way. This can cause damage beyond normal deterioration if components wear improperly, and allows excessive heat to travel back into your brake system potentially affecting more expensive parts like hub bearings, rotors and master cylinders.

Nothing lasts forever, and your brakes will eventually need to be serviced. Inspect the condition and thickness of pads and shoes whenever your wheels are off (during a rotation, for instance), and take your vehicle in for regular service as required. If you notice strange sounds, vibrations or pedal action, enlist the help of a trusted mechanic immediately.