RAC Cars News


Are You A Fuel Snob?

By raccars Published

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You know for a fact that your car runs better on fuel from ABC company, while your neighbour's XYZ company fuel is of better quality and that supermarket fuel ruined his engine... do you recognise this commonly occurring debate? In fact, the truth is not quite that simple and the fuel business is a murky landscape to traverse.

Premium fuels

One area of the business which is easier to negotiate is the premium versus standard fuel argument. Premium fuels are slightly different from standard fuels, although the two can be freely mixed. BP Ultimate and Shell V-Power Nitro+ are examples of premium fuel, and they cost more per litre than standard fuels. Their superiority comes in the form of some clever additives for better engine cleaning and lubrication. In petrol form this is known as 'super unleaded' and has a higher octane rating (98 instead of 95, for example). Premium diesel has a higher cetane rating.

The octane and cetane numbers refer to how your engine burns fuel, and the general rule is that the higher numbers indicate more efficient and effective performance. You may or may not notice better performance or fuel economy when you use them.

You can sometimes buy own brand super unleaded fuel at supermarkets, such as Tesco Momentum 99. However, critics will argue against its virtues compared with premium fuel from big name fuel brands. Tesco Momentum 99 is higher in ethanol than super unleaded by BP, for example, and while this can inflate the octane, it may not offer a genuine increase in efficiency. Hard facts, however, are not easy to come by.

Standard fuels

Don't confuse 'super unleaded' with 'premium unleaded,' such as Shell Fuelsave, because this is actually the standard stuff but with a fancy name. The main confusion is over the quality of supermarket fuel compared to big name brands, such as BP, Shell, Total and Esso.

What we do know is that there are British Standards to which all fuel sold in the UK must conform. As a result you can mix different brands freely, as they are all very similar in composition. All standard fuel is a mixture of the base fuel and a package of additives. All brands work with the same base fuel and usually fill up from the same tanks at local refineries. After that they then add their own package of additives, so in theory, it is possible that some cars respond better to one particular additives package compared to others. You can only judge this by personal experience.

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