Ever put premium gasoline in your vehicle? I've done it. I sometimes do it when I feel like my vehicle isn't running at optimum performance. Turns out, most of us are wasting our money.

Our first mistake is not really understanding what "premium" gasoline is designed to do. It has a higher octane rating so that means it'll help your engine. That's what I guess I thought. Wrong. The higher octane actually just means it handles higher pressures inside your vehicle's engine. One problem. The engines of vehicles that run on regular don't run at those high pressures. AAA says putting it in your tanks is just a waste of money.

How much do Americans throw away at the gas pump buying premium when we don't need to? AAA estimates $2 billion last year alone. John Nielsen, AAA's managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, told CNN Money, "Drivers see the 'premium' name at the pump and may assume the fuel is better for their vehicle. AAA cautions drivers that premium gasoline is higher octane, not higher quality, and urges drivers to follow the owner's manual recommendations for their vehicle's fuel."

This recommendation is based on research. AAA tested both regular and premium gasoline in a variety of engines that use regular fuel. There was no better fuel economy, tailpipe emissions didn't lower, and there wasn't even any more horsepower created. As I said, waste of money.

16.5 million American drivers put premium fuel in their vehicle at least once last year when they didn't need to. Hey, at least I'm not alone. That's not to say that some vehicles don't need premium. About 16 percent of us drive vehicles that actually need it. Those are high-performance or luxury vehicles, neither of which has ever sniffed my garage, I can assure you.

That one fill-up of higher-priced fuel comes at a hefty price. Estimating premium fuel at 50 cents per gallon more (AAA says that's the national average), filling a 15-gallon tank can cost you an extra $7.50. There's plenty of places we can throw that away besides our gas tank(s).

[via CNN Money]