$4.10 gas is already here
Gasoline in Grand Forks surpassed $4 a gallon sometime ago -- and apparently few have really noticed. Years ago, when drivers were complaining about gas hitting the all time high mark of $2 a gallon, they were complaining about regular unleaded, ...
Gasoline in Grand Forks surpassed $4 a gallon sometime ago -- and apparently few have really noticed.
Years ago, when drivers were complaining about gas hitting the all time high mark of $2 a gallon, they were complaining about regular unleaded, which is to say mostly straight gasoline. Today, the price of the regular unleaded, made out of unblended straight gasoline, goes for $4.049 to $4.099 a gallon around the city, and some gas stations don't even offer straight gasoline anymore.
The $3.949 to $3.999 a gallon that drivers see advertised is for the 10 percent ethanol blend, often labeled as "super unleaded." Cars often get lower mileage when using such blends.
Some gas station owners said they advertise the super unleaded instead of regular unleaded because it's the cheapest and customers are very sensitive to price.
In Grand Forks, Loren Dusterhoft, owner of two gas stations, said something like 60 percent of drivers prefer some sort of ethanol blend. Among drivers of flex-fuel vehicles that can handle higher levels of ethanol, he said, E30 and E85 have grown in popularity.
The numbers refer to the percentage of ethanol in the fuel, so E85 is mostly ethanol.
"Most people don't even know what they're buying when they go to the pump -- they just buy the cheapest gas," said Paul Mutch, who owns Paul's PetroMax in Larimore, N.D., and does some wholesale on the side.
Thanks to federal tax subsidies encouraging ethanol production, blends are about 9 to 10 cents cheaper than straight gasoline, the gas station owners said.
But using the 10-percent ethanol blend can reduce fuel economy by 3 to 4 percent, according to Gene LaDoucer, a spokesman for AAA's Fargo office.
In other words, it takes 1.03 to 1.04 gallons of the 10-percent blend to equal a gallon of straight gasoline. So to get the mileage of a gallon of straight gasoline that costs $4.049, a driver has to buy $4.071 to $4.114 worth of the 10-percent blend priced at $3.949 a gallon.
LaDoucer added that some regular unleaded also contains 5 to 10 percent ethanol, but isn't labeled as such.
Dusterhoft complained of the same thing. Gas stations are supposed to label ethanol content, if any, of their fuel, he said, but he's heard some don't bother. There's no other way a gas station can sell regular unleaded gas for the same price as super unleaded, he said.
He's also heard that all gasoline in Minnesota has ethanol in it, he said.
That's true. Minnesota state law says gasoline sold there must contain a minimum of 10 percent ethanol. Hawaii also has a similar law.
In many places, super unleaded continues to cost more than regular unleaded. AAA's FuelGaugeReport.com website reflects this. Nationally, super unleaded averaged $4.096 a gallon and regular unleaded $3.951 as of Tuesday afternoon.
In North Dakota, it's the opposite: Super unleaded averaged $3.949 and regular unleaded $3.958. The same thing appears in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, but not Minnesota or Hawaii, which raises the question what regular unleaded even means any more.
AAA's website calls regular "regular," super unleaded "mid" and premium unleaded "premium." The difference is not in fuel quality or energy content, as the grades may imply, but octane rating. Regular is at 87 octane, super unleaded at 89 and premium at 91 or 92. The higher the octane rating, the slower the fuel burns, and the more controlled the combustion in the engine.
Some engines, especially the ones in sports cars, have higher compression, generating more power, and that higher compression will cause regular fuel to burn prematurely. The phenomenon is known as "engine knock" or "ping," which degrades performance and is bad for the engine.
Most cars don't require anything more than 87-octane fuel. So that "super" unleaded is probably not so super, even if it's cheaper.
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