What is the best fuel for my car? The definitive guide to different fuel types

What is the best fuel for my car? The definitive guide to different fuel types
Pull into any filling station either here or abroad and you might be surprised by just how many different types of fuel there seems to be these days.

Gone are the days of choosing either petrol or diesel at the pump, but what are all these fuels and which one should you be using in your car?

To help you understand what fuel you should be putting into your car, here’s our simple guide to fuels in the UK and across Europe. 

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What types of fuel are there in the UK?

There are six common ways to power your car in the UK: 

  1. Petrol: The most common fuel used to power cars in the UK, unleaded petrol is mixed with bioethanol to make them more environmentally friendly. 
  2. Diesel: Although UK demand has dropped due to some high profile scandals and concerns over diesel’s environmental impacts, common diesel types are city diesel, low-sulphur diesel and premium diesel. 
  3. LPG: Standing for Liquefied Petroleum Gas, LPG is made of butane and propane. It’s available at most UK fuel stations and cheaper than petrol and diesel, although cars need to be specially converted to run on the gas.
  4. Biofuels: Although not widely commercially available in the UK on their own, biofuels are currently blended with both standard unleaded petrol and standard diesel to make them more environmentally friendly. 
  5. Electric: Increasingly common in the UK, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) require no fuel whatsoever and are powered by a rechargeable plug-in battery. 
  6. Hybrid: Powered by two distinct types of energy (either petrol or diesel and electric), there are two types of hybrid car: plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid. 

What types of petrol are there?

If there weren’t enough different ways to power your car, there are also three different types of unleaded petrol. All contain up to 5% bioethanol and are differentiated by their Research Octane Number (RON): 

Premium Unleaded (95 RON)

Although it’s called premium, this is actually the standard unleaded petrol available across Europe and is suitable for almost all petrol engines. 

Super Unleaded (97/98 RON)

The highest-octane fuel widely available is required for some high-performance Japanese cars and preferable for others (like Porsches), although in most cars any benefits are negligible. 

Premium fuels

Some retailers sell their own high-performance, high-octane fuels, e.g. Total Excellium Unleaded and Shell V-Power Unleaded, which has an octane rating of 99 RON, the UK’s highest. 

However, if that wasn’t complex enough, the labels of unleaded petrol (and diesel) are due to change in Summer 2019 to match new EU standardisation requirements. 

Are petrol labels changing?

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Yes, they are. In 2018, the EU announced plans to standardise petrol and diesel labelling throughout Europe to make it easier for motorists they fill up with the right fuel at the pump wherever they are. 

Instead of being called “unleaded” or “diesel”, fuels are now referred to using their biofuel blend – unleaded petrol called E for ethanol and diesel called B for biodiesel – and their biofuel percentage.

This means that standard unleaded petrol is now called E5 (due to its up to 5% ethanol content), while standard diesel is now named B7 (because of its up to 7% biodiesel content). 

From September 2019, it’ll be mandatory for all petrol pumps in the UK to use this new labelling, although most retailers are likely to use the new names alongside the current labelling of “unleaded” and “diesel” to help motorists.

What is E10 fuel?

As you might have guessed from the name, E10 is an unleaded petrol made up of 90% regular unleaded and 10% ethanol.

The greener fuel is sold in several EU countries, including France and Germany, with experts predicting all petrol cars in the EU running on E10 would lead to a carbon reduction equivalent to taking 9 million cars off Europe’s roads. 

Since 2011, all new cars sold in the UK have been E10 compatible but despite this the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) estimate around 8% of the UK’s petrol cars remain incompatible with the fuel.

Despite years of speculation, the UK government still has no concrete plans to roll out E10 on forecourts across the country although it’s likely to be introduced steadily over the next few years to help meet carbon emissions targets. 

For more information on this new blend of petrol and to find out how it could affect you both here and abroad, check out our complete guide to E10 fuel

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What is E85 fuel?

E85 is an unleaded petrol that’s a blend of 15% regular unleaded and up to 85% ethanol.

Despite being introduced around a decade ago, E85 is no longer commercially available in the UK although it remains widely available on forecourts across Europe, often called bioethanol E-85. 

However, before filling up with E85 check your car is compatible with fuel. Most petrol vehicles aren’t, and using it could cause loss of power, fuel economy, or even lasting damage to your engine.

What’s the best petrol for my car?

Some cars run optimally on standard premium unleaded, while others run more efficiently on higher octane fuels like super unleaded so check your manual.

As a general rule, you can use a higher-octane fuel than is recommended for your car (although it might well have no discernible advantages) however using a lower-octane fuel than recommended could cause engine damage. 

If you’re traveling through France in a car that’s compatible with E10, you can do your bit for the environment by topping up with the greener fuel.

Should I use a premium fuel?

Again, this depends on your car. If you own a high-performance car a premium fuel may improve driving performance and fuel efficiency, and may even be required by the manufacturer.

However, for many cars a premium fuel makes no discernible difference to their performance but could see you paying out more for no reason, so research first before topping up. 

What’s the difference between 91 and 95 octane fuel?

Put simply, the only difference between these two fuels is their Research Octane Number, with the higher-octane 95 unleaded designed to be more fuel efficient and lead to a smoother engine operation. 

In some countries like Australia, the standard unleaded petrol available is 91 RON however in the UK the standard unleaded is 95 RON, meaning unless you’re driving abroad you are unlikely to come across 91 RON petrol. 

Can I mix premium unleaded with super unleaded?

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If you mix premium unleaded (which has an octane of 95 RON) and super unleaded (97/98 RON) evenly in your tank, you’ll end up with a mixed-grade petrol of around 96 RON.

However, while it’s possible to mix these fuels, experts recommend sticking to the octane recommended for your car, whether 95 or 97/98, to ensure efficient performance and avoid engine damage. 

Can I mix E10 and E85?

Probably not, no. While the majority of UK cars are E10 compatible, they’re unable to run effectively on E85 and mixing the two could cause driving issues and even engine damage in the long-run so it’s not recommended.

However, if you happen to be driving an E85 car in the UK or abroad (and they are popular in Sweden, Brazil and other countries), you should be able to top up using E10 fuel without any issues although check with your manufacturer first. 

What petrol should I use abroad?

Thanks to the new EU regulations regarding fuel labelling, it’s now easier than ever to know exactly what fuel to use when you’re driving abroad – you simply pick the same one as you would at home, whether diesel or petrol.

For those driving in France, E10 is the most common unleaded petrol available and if your car is compatible with the fuel you’ll be able to fill up with E10 just as you would E5 unleaded in the UK.

What is B10 diesel?

B10 diesel is a new variety of diesel now available on forecourts in France which contains 10% biodiesel.

Whilst B7 is regarded as safe for all diesel vehicles, there are some compatibility concerns for B10. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association have published a compatibility table which you should check out before you risk filling up on your road trip.

As well as knowing your fuels, make sure you have European Breakdown Cover and have researched all the motoring laws and requirements for every country you plan to travel through.

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