What’s With All the Buttons? Types and Grades of Fuel

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Drive up to almost any gas pump in the United States and you will see three fuel options. What do these mean?

Most drivers choose the cheapest option or lowest grade fuel; however, others purchase the most expensive or highest grade because they assume it is best for their vehicle’s engine. If you are confused by the three buttons, don’t mistakenly pull up to the diesel pump because that’s confusing territory, too. Basic knowledge of fuel types and grades is useful for any driver and will help you make decisions that will improve the function of your car. Below are the types of fuels available today, their characteristics, and their common uses.

4 Most Common Types of Fuel, and What You Should Know About Them

  1. 1

    Gasoline

    Gasoline is the most common automobile fuel and is used all over the world to power cars, motorcycles, scooters, boats, lawnmowers, and other machinery. It is made from petroleum, hence its nickname “petrol” in the U.K. Gas is commonly available in three octane ratings or “grades.” Grades are denoted by the research octane number (RON) and AKI of a specific formula. Stickers or labels will inform drivers which pump releases each grade. 87 AKI is generally the lowest octane rating and cheapest option. Next is mid-grade with 89-90 AKI. Lastly, premium or high grade gasoline has an octane rating of 90-94 AKI. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see which grade is recommended for your car. Most vehicles function just fine on the lowest and cheapest gasoline option. On the other hand, many luxury or high performance vehicles require premium fuel for top performance. Always follow the safety regulations posted on gas pumps when fueling your vehicle. Never smoke around gasoline pumps. Like all fuels, it is extremely flammable!

  2. 2

    Diesel Fuel

    Diesel fuel is also made from petroleum but is refined using a different method than that used to create gasoline. Many large and industrial trucks use diesel fuel, as do transfer trucks and agricultural equipment. There are two types of diesel fuel, one specifically for automobiles and one for off-road vehicles. A resurgence of diesel powered vehicles has taken place in the past few years because of the rising price of all fuels, including gasoline and diesel. Diesel powered cars typically get better gas mileage than gasoline powered vehicles and some drivers feel that they get a better value for their money even if diesel is more expensive. Volkswagen is a well-known manufacturer of diesel cars.

  3. 3

    Biodiesel

    Diesel fuel that is created using vegetable oils or animal fats is called biodiesel. It can be made using soybean oil, lard, algae, and vegetable oils. Some inventive drivers have found ways to recycle used cooking oils into biodiesel that powers altered car engines.

  4. 4

    Ethanol

    Although ethanol is not widely used as a general automobile fuel, it is added to our common gasoline as an additive. Many car manufacturers are designing vehicles that can be powered by ethanol because it is a cost effective fuel made from renewable resources like corn and sugarcane.

As the United States broadens its fuel options, young drivers can expect to see more types of fuel in their lifetimes.

Gasoline is by far the most popular type, but others are increasing in popularity. Make sure that you are purchasing the correct type of fuel for your vehicle for peak performance.

Andrei Zakhareuski, Driving-Tests.org Founder
Andrei is a driver with 11+ years of experience and the founder of Driving-Tests.org.

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