Fuel Types Explained

With the wide range of engine types now available, the growing costs of fuel, and cars moving towards being electric, pulling up at the petrol station doesn’t feel as simple as it once was.

In this post, we will explain what different types of fuel are currently available on the market, to help you find the perfect car and arm you with the information you need to look after it properly.

Jump to the sections using the links below:

Petrol
Diesel
LPG
Biofuels
Hybrid
Electric


Petrol

Here in the UK, the most common petrol types are:

– Premium Unleaded (95 RON)
– Super Unleaded (97 / 98 RON)
– Premium Fuels (e.g. Shell V-Power)

‘RON’: Octane rating explained

OK, we’re about to get technical; ’95/97/98 RON’ refers to the octane rating. This is a measure of how easily the fuel will ignite within the engine of a car. The higher the octane rating is, the harder it is for the fuel to ignite because the fuel requires greater compression in order to do so.

However, because high octane fuel burns much hotter, it can burn more efficiently, and therefore performs better for higher-performance car engines that require it.

Premium Unleaded (95 RON)

Despite the ‘Premium’ label, Premium Unleaded is actually the most commonly-used petrol across the UK and Europe, and is suitable for almost all petrol engines.

Super Unleaded (97 / 98 RON)

Super Unleaded has the higher-octane rating (97/98 RON) that is widely available here in the UK. It is mostly used for high-performance cars that require and will benefit from using it.

Premium Fuels (e.g. Shell V-Power)

Premium fuels, such as Shell V-Power, have a higher octane rating (99 RON in this case). Manufacturers of these premium fuels claim that as well as the higher octane rating, the fuel offers benefits such as “improved lubrication, cleaning action and a higher performance.”

Considerations 

If your car journeys are shorter and you travel fewer miles, a petrol engine may be more suited for your car needs as opposed to a diesel engine. A lot of diesel engines are now fitted with a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) which need regular long journeys to avoid any clogging.

If you are in doubt about which petrol you should put in your car, please check your car manual.

Diesel

The most common diesel types in the UK are:

– City diesel
– Low-sulphur diesel
– Premium diesel (e.g. Shell V-Power Diesel)

‘Cetane rating’ explained

A cetane rating or cetane number (CN) is the rating given to diesel fuel for its combustion quality. It measures the fuel’s delay of ignition time.

Most diesel vehicles use fuel with a rating of 45 to 55. The higher the cetane rating, the easier it will ignite and burn more quickly and efficiently.

City diesel and low-sulfur diesel

There is often only one type of diesel available at a fuel station, and sometimes it is even just labeled plain ‘diesel’. All of which should be fine to use in any current diesel car or van.

The fuel pumps are usually black too – although always best to double-check!

Premium diesel

As with petrol, some manufacturers offer premium diesel too.

The premium fuels generally have a higher cetane rating, so when it is used in a vehicle it ignites and burns more quickly and efficiently, whilst also lubricating and cleaning the engine.

Considerations

If you cover a lot of miles, travel on the motorways often or you need to tow something, diesel engines are better suited.

Although it may be more expensive upfront, you could save more money long-term as they are more fuel-efficient and are good at producing huge amounts of torque (pulling power).

LPG

Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) is made up of butane and propane. It is both cleaner and cheaper to buy than petrol and is available at a number of UK fuel stations. Although it is a cheaper alternative to petrol, you get fewer miles to the gallon.

Most petrol engines can be specially converted to be able to run on LPG.

Considerations

If you are looking to use LPG, you will only see the benefit if you do high mileage or are planning on keeping your car for a few years. This is due to the cost implication of converting your car in the first place.

Biofuels (biodiesel and bioethanol)

Biodiesel is made up of rapeseed oil and other plant oils, and bioethanol is made up of sugar cane sugars, wheat, and other plant resources. They can be used on their own or blended with regular diesel (with biodiesel) or petrol (with bioethanol).

Please check if your car is compatible before using biofuels – your car will likely need modifying before usage.

Hybrid (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle – PHEV)

A hybrid uses two or more distinct types of power source. In a car engine, it can run on petrol or diesel (depending on which fuel type a vehicle should use) as well as an electric motor powered by a rechargeable plug-in battery.

When the electric energy is limited, the car will revert to fuel to power the engine.

You can charge your car at home, or there are various plug-in points across the UK, in supermarkets, retail parks, motorway fuel stations etc.

Electric (Battery Electric Vehicle – BEV)

An electric vehicle uses a motor that is powered by a rechargeable plug-in battery; no fuel is required.

As with hybrids, you can charge your car at home, or there are various plug-in points across the UK, in supermarkets, retail parks, motorway fuel stations etc.

Considerations

Electric vehicles can be used for both short and long car journeys. However, the latter would require some pre-planning for plug-in point locations on the route.

Thinking of buying a hybrid or electric car in 2018? Here are 13 of the best.


To search our entire range of over 3,000 vehicles, head to our homepage, where you can filter by fuel-type and more: Find your perfect car now.

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