Octane Levels Can Affect Fuel Efficiency and Warranty

There are different kinds of fuel available for your vehicle, and drivers must be aware of what they are putting into the tank, especially with the summer months of heavy driving coming soon. If you spend a few minutes looking at what you’re refueling with, it can save you money at the pump, protect your engine and keep your warranty valid.

Added ethanol and various octane levels directly impact your car’s fuel consumption and emissions. If gasoline is of poor enough quality, it can even void the warranty provided by the vehicle manufacturer. Of greatest concern are octane levels that are too low and levels of ethanol that are too high. Ratings of 85 or 86 qualify gasoline as low-octane. Regular gasoline carries a rating of 87. Bill Studzinski, fuel specialist for General Motors, says that the low octane fuels can be found in the Rocky Mountain states. The low octane is a throwback to days when it was needed to keep engines running smoother at higher altitudes. Now that engines are electronically controlled rather than carbureted, the low levels of octane are not only useless but can actually do damage to your vehicle.

Former 2012 Scion iQ owner, Rodney Gutzler from Sioux Falls, said, “I felt like a fool. Here i was in a little bitty car that was supposed to get 36 mpg in the city, and I was getting 25.” David Montgomery, who is a reporter for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, says that low-octane (85 rating) gasoline spread from the western South Dakota mountains into the eastern plains in 2012. Since that time, a state law was passed to restrict sales of the 85 octane gas to the west and requiring a label at the pump that states, “This octane level may not meet minimum manufacturer specifications. Consult your owner’s manual before fueling.”

General Motors reports that less than 2 percent of the vehicles in the U.S. have carburetors. All other vehicles are equipped with computerized controls that adjust for altitude and for those vehicles, manufacturer-specific gasoline is required to meet standards in emissions, fuel efficiency and performance. Automakers would like to see 85 and 86 octane gasoline completely banned rather than restricted. Studzinski said, “We do not endorse the use of 85 octane or lower.”

Montgomery states that there is currently a lawsuit in South Dakota seeking damages on behalf of car owners who “were knowingly and fraudulently charged inflated prices” for 85 octane gas, which is cheaper than 87 octane.

“My Scion iQ clearly stated that no gasoline lower than 87 octane should be used because it could damage the engine. The pumps where I got 85 octane weren’t labeled. Who knew what we were buying?”

A less widespread problem is the higher ethanol (alcohol) mixtures in gasoline; however, this problem seems to be on the rise rather than resolving like the low octane gas issue. Higher alcohol is becoming more common due to the recent push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable fuels. The common level in almost all fuel is 10 percent ethanol, and vehicles can run efficiently and safely on this. However, the E15 blend, or 15 percent ethanol, can cause problems. There are only a few gas stations that sell the mixture, including some in Illinois and Wisconsin.

There is disagreement about what is safe for which models among the automakers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). General Motors only approves E15 for 2012 models and later. The EPA asserts that the mixture can work with emissions systems in vehicles that are older, back to the 2001 model year. Automakers disagree, saying that systems were not certified for E15 that long ago.

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