Is Supermarket Fuel Bad For Your Car?
The facts about own brand fuel
Fuel prices are rarely a cause for celebration – but in recent weeks the dramatic drop in prices at the pump has been welcome news for motorists.
As ever, it’s the supermarkets that have led the way – with all of the major retailers slashing prices following a drop in the price of crude oil.
But many motorists are suspicious of the supermarkets’ rock-bottom prices. In buying cheaper, are you buying poorer quality fuel and potentially damaging your car?
Here is some useful information to guide your decision.
All fuel has to conform to the same standard
The most important thing to understand is that all petrol and diesel sold in the UK must conform to the relevant British Standards. This means that they should all work in the same way and that you should be able to mix the same grade of fuel, bought from different outlets, without any problem.
So, doesn’t this mean there really isn’t any difference between different fuel brands? This is where it gets a bit more complicated.
It’s all about the additives
The fuel we buy at the pumps is made up of two things: a so-called ‘base’ fuel (a standard output from any refinery) and a package of additives – extra ingredients designed to, for example, keep the engine cleaner or improve lubrication. It’s the additives that make the difference and, like Coca Cola, each manufacturer has a secret recipe.
This mixture of base and additives applies to both the cheapest fuel on offer as well as to the branded, so-called high performance fuels.
Does branded fuel make a difference to the performance of a car?
It’s hard to prove this, and opinions vary. Some motoring commentators do state a preference for specific brands. They claim their research shows that high-grade fuels deliver better economy and keep their car cleaner and more smooth-running than supermarket alternatives.
Many motorists have their own preferred brand, too – some going so far as to test out the effect of different brands on their car’s MPG (guidance here is to use three consecutive tankfuls to effectively test performance). But the modern car is a complex beast – and with so many variables affecting performance, it’s hard to identify the impact of fuel on its own.
So, could supermarket fuel damage your car?
This is the 60 million dollar question – and, frustratingly, the answer is that there is no definitive answer. Certainly, there are motorists who feel their car runs better on branded fuel – along with horror stories of the damage caused by a rogue batch of contaminated fuel. In 2007, supermarkets had to refund drivers for the damage caused by contaminated fuel.
And a similar issue happened earlier this year in Bournemouth.
But our investigation for MyMotoring hasn’t identified sufficient compelling evidence for us to make a strong case against supermarket fuel. And one particularly diligent motorist has done his own detailed investigation to disprove the myth that supermarket fuel is bad for your car.
When you consider that supermarket fuel tankers are often seen filling up from the same tanks as branded fuel tankers (e.g. Shell), you also have to recognise there is a chance that own brand and branded pumps could be selling you exactly the same product.
What should I do?
If you’re concerned about the impact of cheap fuel on your car, talk to your manufacturer or dealer for more detailed advice about your particular make and model – or have a word with your local garage.