wrong fuel

Most of us are cost conscious when it comes to choosing fuel for our cars. We may drive around to local gas stations desperately searching for the lowest price per gallon advertised. To save even more money at the selected station, our gut instinct is to ask for regular gas for our cars. Although we may be saving a couple of bucks at the tank, we could be undermining the performance of our car engines.

Octane Ratings

Higher-octane fuels come labeled with all sorts of names depending on the gas station you fill up at. Buzzwords such as “super,” “premium,” and “ultra” are intended to entice you to shell out ten cents or more a gallon for improved engine performance. But what exactly is a higher octane and what’s it doing for your car? In the simplest of terms, the octane of gasoline is a measurement of the fuel’s knocking abilities. If knocking occurs, gas burns too early in the combustion process and causes your engine to “knock” or rattle. When the fuel has a higher octane number, the gas is intended to remain stable and stop any knocking from taking place.

What Do All These Octane Numbers Mean?

For many vehicles, the recommended octane is 87. This number is what most drivers call “regular” gas. Middle grade fuel will have an octane rating between 88 and 90 while premium gas falls in the 91 to 94 range.

Cars that have engines with high compression ratios are typically the type of vehicles that require high-octane fuel. Besides compression ratios, cars that have supercharged or turbocharged engines are likely to require premium gas. Supercharged and turbocharged vehicles force more air into the engine for improved performance. All of these car types have one thing in common: more mechanical energy is being extracted from the engine. The higher-octane gas is a must to keep the fuel from detonating too early. Still confused about what octane gas your car requires? Check your owner’s manual for manufacturer recommendations.

Why You Need the Right Fuel

Using a lower octane fuel than your manufacturer recommends can gradually damage your engine and emissions control systems. While carrying heavy loads or towing a trailer, CO2 emissions may be reduced when using the right octane fuel. There is also some evidence that using the right type of fuel for your vehicle increases gas mileage.

Special Considerations

If you live or have visited a region with a high elevation, you may have seen gas for sale with an octane rating of 85. This is considered “regular” gas in places like the Rocky Mountains. Fuel stations started offering this octane gas years ago when carbureted engines ran smoother in higher altitudes at this octane rating. Carmakers are currently asking for a ban on this type of gas since less than 2 percent of cars in the U.S. still have carburetors. Unless you have a carbureted engine, avoid fueling up with low-octane gas.

A new blend of ethanol gas is also being currently sold at numerous stations that could also be potentially harmful to your car. Although most gas contains 10 percent ethanol, the newer type referred to as E15, has 15 percent of the alcohol blend in it. In most cases, car manufacturers are recommending model years prior to 2012 not use E15. If you do fuel up with this type and suffer any mechanical issues, you could inadvertently void your warranty.

Another huge risk to drivers is mixing up diesel and petrol at the pumps. According to the Automobile Association, approximately 150,000 drivers each year put the wrong type of fuel in their cars. If you put regular gas in a car with a diesel engine, don’t turn on the ignition. Metal particles can cause damage to the fuel system and the longer they run through the car, the increased likelihood of engine problems. Although putting diesel in a car that takes regular fuel is unlikely since diesel nozzles are larger than standard filler necks, the fuel should still be replaced if this occurs.

Online traffic schools not only teach you the basics of defensive driving, but also help you learn tips and tricks about properly maintaining your vehicle. Using the right fuel is one component of an overall strategy of taking better care of your car. Another benefit of an online traffic school is that you may receive a safe driver discount from your auto insurance provider or have a traffic citation reduced or dismissed.