How to choose a quality gas station

Photograph Courtesy Carl Nenzen Loven/Unsplash

There are a lot of gas stations out there, some drenched in bright light and others dim and a little scuzzy. Do they all pump the same gasoline from their tanks into yours? No, explains Zachary J. Santner, technical specialist at Sunoco Race Fuels. 

Fuel Cleanliness Matters

Pump gasolines, Santner explains, fall into two major camps: Top Tier and the rest. What’s the difference? Top Tier fuels meet the detergent requirements set forth by several carmakers: GM, Ford, Toyota, BMW, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Stellantis, the brand formerly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

A number of national and regional brands meet the Top Tier standards–Sunoco is on that list, Santner notes, and you can learn more at If a brand carries the Top Tier designation, it’s contractually obligated to meet those detergent specs for all of its fuels, not just its high-octane products. 

Is that Top Tier talk just some marketing bull? A study performed by AAA shows there’s a real difference. After controlled test cycles simulating about 4000 miles of real-world driving per fuel sample, AAA released its results: The Top Tier gasolines averaged 34.1mg of deposits per intake valve versus the non-Top Tier average of 660.6mg. (Yes, the non-Top Tier fuels left about 19 times more crud on the intake valves.)

Station Cleanliness Matters

No matter the brand, gasoline follows a common path from the refinery to the corner gas station that involves pipelines and tankers. But not all stations are equal.

Gas has a limited shelf life, so Santner notes that a busy station is more likely to have fresher fuel. Gasoline that sits can attract moisture while also going stale.

Another variable from station to station: the quality and cleanliness of the actual pumps. Those pumps contain filters designed to catch dirt and stop the flow of fuel should they detect water. A slow pump can be a sign of a filter issue. Ideally, Santner notes, a pump should deliver 10 gallons in about 2 minutes. 

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