There are so many mundane systems and processes in place in our society that only exist because that’s the way they’ve always been. Some are because of people being too stubborn to change, inefficiencies in the product or service, or deceiving people to buy things they don’t truly need. Sometimes all three get involved in the perfect storm of preventable chaos, and one such example involves gasoline.
When you go to a gas station, there are three gas pumps: regular, midgrade, and premium. Sometimes there’s a fourth for diesel engines, but that seems self-explanatory. If you have a diesel engine, use diesel fuel. The other pumps though all present a different octane level of usually 87, 91, and 93 respectively. The octane levels have historically been presented as having different levels of detergents to keep fuel injectors clean, but that’s not truly the case. What is true though is that they provide different levels of detonation prevention.
Detonation describes the process by which under certain circumstances, gasoline explodes inside of the engine instead of being burned off. This can cause engine damage if too many of these explosions happen. This scenario is more likely to occur in high-compression, turbo-charged engines, or whenever the car is being run under heavy throttle. In these cases, it is recommended or sometimes required to run high-performance engines with the highest octane level gas available to prevent these detonations, but this doesn’t represent the majority of car owners.
The majority of cars will run perfectly fine on the lowest level of octane gas available, which is usually 85 or 87. There are added detonation benefits gained by switching to 91 or 93 gas, but there aren’t enough to justify the price increase. According to industry estimates, 85% of gasoline sold is regular gas, 5% sold is midgrade gas, and 10% sold is premium gas. The only reason that midgrade gas is sold nowadays is that the pumps have always been created to hold three different gas options.
As late as 1995, the three different gas options were regular leaded, regular unleaded, and premium unleaded. In 1995, the gasoline industry started phasing out the sale of leaded gasoline even though every gas pump at the time was built to hold those 3 options. Thus, gas stations had to get creative with finding a third option to replace regular leaded gasoline. The idea emerged to simply combine regular unleaded and premium unleaded gasoline into a newer midgrade option, slap an octane value on it that was in between the two others, and 91 octane gasoline was born.
We now have a situation where most cars will run perfectly fine on regular gas, but premium gas exists as an alternative for high-power or supercharged engines. And we have midgrade gas which is an aftermarket combination of the two options that doesn’t need to exist and only exists because of an outdated infrastructure and supply chain model that dictates that every gas pump in the country provides three different gasoline options. Misleading consumers to think there are added benefits when there genuinely aren’t any other than the odd chance that your car receives additional detonation prevention.
Why do I feel like this is an elaborate metaphor for capitalism?
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