Wizard of Octane

Myth: High-octane fuel will improve your car’s performance

This myth is a bit tricky, but we can still bust it. When you visit the petrol station there are usually 3 types of petrol available: 91 octane, 95 octane and 98 octane.These are rated by their Research Octane Number (RON), which measures the petrol’s anti-knock quality (the tendency of the fuel to detonate instead of burning smoothly). 91 octane fuel has a low anti-knock quality, while 95 and 98 allow engines to run at a higher compression level.

If you’ve got a normal run-of-the-mill car – like a Holden Astra or Toyota Camry – that only requires 91 octane fuel, then there’s no need to use 95 or 98 octane fuel.Your engine is already able to perform at its highest efficiency on the recommended fuel, making higher-quality petrol superfluous. Essentially it won’t make much difference to how the car performs orFrom RAA its fuel efficiency.
On the other hand, a high-performance vehicle that requires 95 or 98 octane petrol is designed to take advantage of the properties of high-octane fuel. Be wary of using a lower octane fuel than recommended by the manufacturer – it could damage the engine.The verdict: If your car is designed to run on 91 octane fuel, there’s no point filling it up with more expensive 95 or 98 octane petrol. You’ll notice no difference in your car’s performance.
[From R.A.A South Australia: https://samotor.raa.com.au/5-driving-myths-debunked/  ] 
 

The Ultimate Guide to Fuel and Octane Ratings

Still uncertain about which octane fuel is right for your car? Think you’re benefiting by tipping in premium? Do you even know what octane ratings mean? Warning: facts are imminent.

10 Myths Busted

1. Use the right fuel:

Never use a fuel with an octane rating lower than the carmaker recommends. That’s a great way to damage your engine. Going higher than the minimum octane the manufacturer recommends is quite OK. But it will cost you more money.

2. Octane rating and energy content:

Octane rating has nothing to do with a particular fuel having more or less energy, intrinsically. Ethanol blended fuels pump up the octane rating, but they actually have less energy than low-octane gasoline. The two properties are (mostly) unrelated.

3. Other common misconceptions:

Octane has nothing to do with the speed of combustion, or the heat of combustion. These are two things that scientifically illiterate halfwits claim all the time. Simply not true

4. Knock:

Octane rating is all about knock resistance. It’s about burning in a controlled way under pressure, while hot.High octane fuels simply resist autoignition better than low octane fuels. Autoignition – which is the fuel burning thanks to the heat and compression in the chamber – before the spark plug fires – causes knock. Which destroys engines at high rpm and big throttle inputs. That’s bad. (Too much ignition advance also causes knock.)

5. Octane and compression:

If an engine is optimised for high octane fuel the designers can increase compression and add ignition advance, because the fuel is more resistant to autoignition. And it’s these two things that lead to a peak power increase for engines optimised for high octane fuel.

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6. Using premium unnecessarily:

If you use high octane fuel in an engine designed for low octane fuel, the engine will adapt up, slightly. The knock sensor will allow a small increase in ignition advance and there will be a slight increase in power. Slight.Certainly this adaptation will not produce as much additional economy/power as there would be if they increased the compression ratio and optimised for premium.7. Economic rationalism:

Here in Australia, it’s almost never economically rational to use premium fuel in a car designed for regular. The extra cost of the premium fuel is, in practice, never offset by the slight increase in economy. You’re just blowing money out the exhaust pipe unnecessarily.

8. Marketing premium to the masses:

Point number seven is of course fuel manufacturers talking up the alleged ancillary benefits of premium – such as the spurious claim that premium will also keep your engine ‘clean’. And if you believe that, I’ll sell you the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (Hit me up on the website for that…)It’s such bullshit. They’re not promoting premium because it’s a benefit to you – they’re promoting it because it’s a benefit to them.

9. Overseas octane ratings are different:

If you’re reading owner’s manuals from overseas, bear in mind that octane ratings are not constant around the world. Here in Australia, we use ‘research octane number’ or RON. Same standard as most of Europe. Note: most of Europe.But in the United States and Canada (ie North America) they use the Anti-Knock Index, which is the numeric average of the RON and another octane measurement standard called the Motor Octane Number (MON).Essentially, for any given fuel, RON is about four points higher than the Anti-Knock Index. So 91 here – our entry-level cat’s piss petrol – is about the same as 87 gasoline in the USA and Canada.And if you’re wondering why so many Euro cars demand 95 here in Australia, it’s because 95 is the default, entry-level cat’s piss in Europe. They don’t do 91.

10. The full techo explanation:

Time to go 100 per cent propeller-head: Octane rating is an index of the knock resistance of a particular fuel compared to a laboratory standard kind of fuel called iso-octane. Which is actually 2,2,4 tri-methyl pentane – for those of you who remained awake for carbon chemistry in high school.Iso-octane has an octane rating of 100, and another chemical – n-heptane has a rating of zero. There’s your measurement scale.So, essentially, 91 RON unleaded has 91 per cent of the knock resistance of iso-octane when you run the test in a special experimentally controlled engine with a variable compression ratio, against a standard set of test protocols that is basically a miracle cure for insomnia.(What I’m saying is if you make up a litre of fuel from 910 millilitres of iso-octane and 90 millilitres of n-heptane, it’ll perform the same as 91 RON petrol from the pump, etc.)

The engine runs at 600rpm for the RON test and 900rpm for the MON test and the difference between the two values is an index of what petrochemical propeller-heads call the fuel’s sensitivity.It’s certainly possible to have octane ratings greater than 100, too. E85 is about 102, straight ethanol or methanol – both about 109, propane and butane (think: LPG) both about 112. Methane – that’s natural gas – is about 120. Toluene – a fairly evil octane boosting additive – is about 121. And hydrogen gas is more than 130.

Money Bags