Do you know what type of fuel your vehicle manufacturer recommends? I'm sure you, like many people, know what type of gasoline is recommended- but I also know that some people ignore that suggestion. I also know looking at statistics that many more people are likely to ignore that recommendation (or even requirement) in times of economic uncertainty or a recession.

Its very interesting to compare gasoline sales (in grade- regular, mid-grade, and premium) during normal times to those times when the economy has been in recession.

For this comparison and analysis, I used gasoline sale data from the Department of Energy, which has kept records on gasoline sales by type of fuel going back to 1983 (in most cases). I also looked up the times that the economy has officially been in a recession- currently (December 2007- now), back in March through November of 2001, and July 1990-March of 1991. In all cases, sales of more expensive premium were higher before the recession began.

In the months proceeding the recession in 90/91, premium sales were 13-15 million gallons per day. The month after the recession began, premium sales dropped to 11.1 million gallons per day. Three months after the recession began, sales of premium were just 8.6 million gallons per day, a significant drop. During that same time, sales of regular gasoline went from 35-38 million gallons per day to 42 million gallons per day.

During the shorter 2001 recession, motorists didn't flock away from premium, but still, some did shift away. Before the 2001 recession, premium sales averaged 7.3 million barrels per day. During the recession, sales averaged 7.2 million barrels per day- hardly any change. Perhaps it was the media that didn't dwell on the poor economy that resulted in nearly no change. Perhaps it was something else.

During the current recession, motorists have flocked away from premium. Use of the fuel dropped to an average of 4 million gallons per day once the economy tanked, a drop of nearly a million gallons before the recession started.

Over the past decade, motorists have continued to shift away from premium gasoline. In 2000, motorists bought an average 7.1 million gallons per day. In 2004 that number dropped to 6.1 million. By 2006, the number was 5.1 million. So far this year, the number averages just 3.5 million gallons.

Overall, its quite astonishing to see the decrease in use of mid-grade and premium gasoline and see the increase in sales of regular gasoline. While two grades suffer from the economy, sales of regular have increased nearly 60% from 32 million gallons a day in 1989 to a peak of 51 million in 2006 before the recession.

While the change from premium to regular highlights tough economic times, it could also be a sign of improving technology. In the last decade, even the last few years, engines have been better able to detect lower quality gasoline (in terms of detonation) and change the timing of ignition to prevent engine damage. Without these devices, called knock sensors, people would likely need to continue to use more expensive fuels. The flip side is that people that need premium can often use regular, they lose power, torque, and may get fewer miles per gallon.

Did you previously need to get premium and just ignore the requirement or recommendation now? Do you think premium costs too much of a premium over regular?