Traveling and can't always fill up with Top Tier Fuel

My thought on buying non- top tier gas is, on a long trip where your filling up a couple times a day or so, that gas isn't going to be in the vehicle long enough to cause any long term problems. And if you buy your gas in a station that's on a highway, it will be refreshed more often than your local in town station that gets fuel once a month or so. Gasoline isn't a long term purchase for most people. But a good long ride at highway speeds will help get everything up to optimum operating temperature, and help clean out any impurities that that might be building up in your fuel system. If your fuel filter is old, it might need to be replaced, no amount of top tier gas will unclog scale or rust if that's your problem.,,
I can't imagine being on a long trip in the USA and not encountering Exxon/Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Sunoco, Citgo, Phillips 66 and other Top Tier brands. And their are major brands that have ceased to pay the licensing fee with excellent fuel, such as BP.

Just look for one of these stations when your fuel gauge gets down to 1/3 or so, and you should be fine. Unless you are in the middle of nowhere and the only choice is Moe's Gas.
I’ve done tons of miles in various parts of the Midwest (especially Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa) and have thought about this some. I think it’s quite regional.

The predominant sellers of fuel in, say, Iowa are basically Kum and Go, HyVee, Casey’s, and Kwik Star, plus BP, none of which are TT. Smaller towns tend to have Cenex/Sinclair sometimes, and you might find the odd Phillips 66 (TT) or the rare Shell (TT), but that’s about it, other than big truck stops on the interstate (Pilot/Flying J/Love’s, none of which are TT). I’d guess that Des Moines’ and Omaha’s stations are at least 75% non-TT, QT being the main exception, and the TT stations that are there tend to be smaller/lower volume/more out of the way. For example, the 300ish miles of I-80 across Iowa has probably 5 total Phillips 66/Shell locations, the only real TT brands with any presence in the state at all, with almost all the stations being Casey’s, Kum and Go, Kwik Star, BP, or major truckstop chains. With that sort of a spread there’s only so much you can do, and you really have to relax your standards (I have done so markedly after Kwik Trip/Star and BP fell off the TT wagon).

Wisconsin and Minnesota are similar, with Kwik Trip and BP (neither are TT any more) being the predominant fuel sellers, plus plenty of Speedway etc. You can certainly find the odd Mobil/Shell/Citgo, but we’re talking a pretty small percentage of the fuel stations and an even smaller percentage of fuel sold.
There are SHELL stations everywhere. ;)
My thoughts are it's ok to not use Top Tier, all that means is that the gasoline is unbranded. I use Costco, which is Top Tier, but because it's cheaper.

I also believe additives are not needed, especially with almost all cars today being direct injection. It's like burning $5 or $10 bills out the tailpipe....jmoymmv :)
Direct injectors can clog and gum.up much easier than port injectors......

DI requires much more cleaning compared to ports.
Top tier gas has an additive package that is top tier approved. Non-top tier gas has an additive package that does not have top tier approval. It didn't fail the approval process, it just wasn't submitted for testing. Maybe it would fail maybe it wouldnt, nobody knows. And it stands to reason that some not approved packages would be superior to some approved packages in certain engines or situations. So how do you get the best one? You can't. You get what you get. We have no control over it.

We don't even know what they are, everything is proprietary. You don't know which additive package you got, what that package even contains, how much of it you got, how effective it is in your engine, because what's good in one engine can be harmful in another, they aren't universally beneficial across the board. So there's no point in arguing which one is better. Just go to the gas station that looks clean, preferably new, sees at least some moderate traffic, and is well-run and well-staffed. It's all you can do.
what CAN help though is what your manufacturer says about Top Tier fuels as to them being "good" for your GM vehicles all mention using Top Tier in the owners manual which is not surprising since GM was one of the group of manufacturers that banded together to recommend Top Tier in the first place...YMMV of course ;)

Well but what version of top tier? Because it gone through a bunch of revisions. What version existed when they wrote that manual? And what did you do in 2021 when all the top tier gas stations were not required to meet top tier standards due to supply chain issues?
An all beef hot dog can be certified as Kosher, but to have a Kosher approval on the label, the hot dogs must be submitted for certification. No submission, no Kosher label

Consider the "Top Tier" label in the same way. Lack of a label does not necessarily mean "inferior". It may only mean the marketer decided, for its own reasons, to not seek certification.
An all beef hot dog can be certified as Kosher, but to have a Kosher approval on the label, the hot dogs must be submitted for certification. No submission, no Kosher label

Consider the "Top Tier" label in the same way. Lack of a label does not necessarily mean "inferior". It may only mean the marketer decided, for its own reasons, to not seek certification.
To add to that, Top Tier doesn't certify the base gasoline, they certify the additive package. It's like they don't submit the hot dog for certification they submit the ketchup, and if the ketchup gets approved any hot dog you put that ketchup on is also certified. Does that analogy work? Lol

You could easily use the top tier program to pass off selling low grade fuel. If I'm being conspiratorial, hypothetically you could buy the cheapest, lowest quality fuel available (that can still pass government regulations of course), blend in a top tier approved additive, and still maintain the appearance of selling high quality fuel because you can still call it all top tier. I don't necessarily think that's what happens, but it's a pretty good idea if you own a bunch of gas stations and too tier certification cost less than developing your own high quality brand image would.

By the way, anybody have any idea what it actually costs to get that Top Tier label on your pumps?

I have no idea, but I'm going to take a shot in the dark based on AAA saying top tier cost 3¢ a gallon extra, and google saying that the average gas station in the US sells 4000 gallons a day, that it cost $0.03×4000×365=$43,800 per station per year. Just a guess. I'd be curious to know what it actually is. And where that money goes. It can't just be to cover the costs of the program. If there's a profit who gets it? If there's a loss who covers it? Why doesn't the program exist in Europe? Why is it so secretive? If the goal is to help the consumer make better choices why isn't there full transparency? I have lots of questions.
There are SHELL stations everywhere. ;)
View attachment 208003
Oddly in the past year, many of the Shell stations in my part of central Florida have been replaced by Circle K stations that don't offer top tier fuel here. The lone Sunoco station has been replaced by a 7-11, and Wawa is building another large facility a few miles from here. Marathon: won't see them no more.
At home unless using rewards points once a month we use TT. But while on vacation we fill up at Loves. Why? Because they have the cleanest restrooms on a consistent basis atleast lol
I used to only use top tier fuel ( owners manual recommends it ) , but not anymore. It’s only available at Shell up here basically and I don’t live close to any Shell gas stations. I just fuel up at the closest gas station that has the cheapest gas close to my house.

I always put two bottles of PEA fuel injector cleaner in before the oil gets changed to mitigate ( Amsoil or Redline ). One car has over 300,000 miles on non top tier gas.
I can't remember the last time I bought Top Tier gas . MANY years ago I'm guessing .
As a long time lurker, I have learned that asking which oil to use is far more influential on the reliability of your vehicle.
PS Shell Rotella T6 is the correct answer.