All fuel isn’t created equal. While you don’t necessarily need to know all the properties of different fuel types before purchasing it, having a basic understanding of these differences may save you money on maintenance costs for your vehicle.
Vehicle owner manuals will specify a recommended fuel type based on the engine compression. If you have a high-performance car, high-compression engine, or turbocharger, the manufacturer may recommend using a higher-octane fuel.
The Most Significant Difference between Regular Fuel and Racing Fuel
Octane level is one of the most significant differences between racing fuel and fuel for street vehicles. The gasoline at a gas station ranges from 87 to 93 octane. Racing fuel ranges from 100 to 120 octane. Since racing engines operate with higher compression ratios, they need higher octane racing fuel to operate.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates regular fuel. Racing fuel, while regulated, has a separate set of standards.
Composition and Properties of Regular Fuel
Gasoline is a refined petroleum product made from crude oil. The refinement process combines additives, hydrocarbons, and blending agents, which improve performance and fuel stability. Some examples of additives in fuels include the following:
- Upper-cylinder lubricants.
- Anti-icing agents.
Depending on the blend of fuel, refined gasoline typically contains more than 150 different compounds, with some blends reaching more than 1,000 component ingredients.
When you visit the gas station, you will see rating numbers on the pump. These numbers note the octane rating, which is the level of stability of the fuel. Octane ratings correlate to the point at which a fuel will detonate. The higher the octane rating, the more resistant to detonation. Higher octane fuel requires a hotter spark to ignite. Higher octane fuels prevent pre-ignition, also known as knocking.
How Racing Fuel Differs from Regular Gasoline
It is very similar to regular fuel but contains more additives to boost the octane level. Specifically designed to work with high-performance engines, racing fuel may contain extra additives such as ethanol, methanol, and lead.
Leaded gasoline was phased out for street vehicles from 1986 through 1996 in response to the Clean Air Act. Leaded gasoline continues in limited use in racing fuels and fuels used by aircraft, some farm vehicles, and various marine vessels.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Racing Fuel in Street Vehicles
When deciding what fuel to use in your street vehicle, refer to the owner’s manual. The vehicle’s manufacturer will include specific information if your engine requires a higher octane fuel. If you can’t find a recommendation, your vehicle should operate without any problems if you use regular-grade fuel.
Using racing fuel in a street vehicle may result in a loss of efficiency because of the need for a hotter spark. Racing fuel may also cause damage to the catalytic converter and oxygen sensors installed on street vehicles.