Knowing the right fuel for your car is essential.
While we may not have reached the point where we can power a time-traveling DeLorean with banana peels, you do have more options when it comes to fuel for your car than you did 36 years ago. Fossil fuel may still be the staple in many countries around the globe, but governments and automakers are doing their best to move away from this quickly dwindling resource as different types of car fuel are made available, each offering their own specific benefits. In this guide, we discuss the various alternatives and everything you need to know about what goes into your car's engine.
Almost all types of car fuel are derived from crude oil, natural gas, or biomass. Production entails breaking down the crude oil into components or fractions in a distillation process. By heating the oil, vapor is produced, which is then cooled and the condensed product is collected at different heights and temperatures, as per the diagram below.
In the case of gasoline, different petroleum products from the various refining processes are combined to create base gasoline for regular and premium grades. Most of the finished types of gasoline for cars in the USA contain about 10% fuel ethanol. This is significant in that this meets the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through various required standards for the composition of transportation fuel sold in the US. There are three main grades of gasoline sold in the US, named for their octane rating:
Each car engine is designed to run on a specific type of fuel. The same goes for the system that supplies fuel to the engine - it must be able to withstand the chemistry of the fuel. A list of the most common car fuel types currently in use include:
Is any one fuel type better than the rest? Some are certainly better-suited to certain circumstances. Here is a breakdown of which fares best:
Diesel's higher energy per volume compared with gasoline, plus a higher engine compression ratio, means diesel-fuel cars give better mpg estimates. While regular gas and diesel generally cost about the same, you get more out of the same amount of diesel in a tank in terms of mileage. However, diesel soot and emissions remain a concern.
Is there a big difference between cars that run on CNG or LPG fuel? Is one more efficient than the other? Not really. They are not interchangeable, but when choosing a vehicle or converting your existing vehicle, your choice should be based on the availability of each fuel in your area, and how each one affects the environment as it exits the exhaust pipe. Neither are currently widely available across the States, so do your research first. In terms of emissions, both are better than standard gasoline engines, but biodiesel is slightly better for the environment. Although hydrogen fuel vehicles are by far the most environmentally friendly, they are expensive and only a small group of manufacturers produce them.
With all these options to choose from, what are the qualities that make a fuel good for the average Joe? The ideal fuel should tick every box in terms of efficiency, environmental friendliness, low cost, and performance, but this is not entirely realistic. Nevertheless, here is a checklist for choosing the best fuel:
Fuel economy refers to the distance a car can travel using a specific amount of fuel. In the US, this is expressed as miles per gallon (mpg). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) derives fuel economy through lab-controlled tests, but you can estimate your mpg by dividing the distance traveled between tank refills by the amount of fuel your tank can hold.
In terms of running costs, EVs are definitely the most economical cars, though they cost a bit more to buy outright. However, vehicles that utilize regular gasoline, diesel, or alternative fuels can still be fuel efficient, too. Of the various types of fuels mentioned here, fuel cell vehicles like the Honda Clarity, Hyundai Nexo, and the Toyota Mirai offer superb EPA estimates, with mileage figures for each working out to 68, 61, and 74 MPGe in combined cycles, respectively.
Yes. Gone are the days where an SUV with a 3rd row would cost a fortune to drive regularly. Many manufacturers now offer SUVs and pickups as hybridized variants. Some of the most fuel-efficient SUVs include the Kia Sorento Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid/Prime, and Toyota Venza. Trucks that offer impressive fuel consumption ratings, albeit gas/diesel-fed include the Ram 1500 diesel and the Toyota Tacoma.