Those High Octane Ethanol Mandated Blues

High-octane fuel isn’t for every engine.

Some engines need it – but others do not.

Millions of other engines.

Feeding those engines high-octane fuel is a money-waster. High-octane “premium” fuel (which isn’t necessarily of higher quality, just higher octane; more about this in a moment) generally costs about 30-50 cents or more per gallon. If your car’s engine doesn’t require it, you’re spending several dollars more for every tankful – which can amount to several hundred dollars annually – and several thousand dollars over the 10-15 year lifespan of a new car.

It’s also a power and mileage waster in cars that don’t need it. Many people do not grok this, but an engine not designed to burn high-octane fuel actually runs better (more efficiently) on lower octane fuel.

Because the fuel burns at the right moment. Not too soon – or too late.

That’s all octane is, really. A measure of a given fuel’s tendency to combust when subjected to increasing heat and pressure.

Some engines – generally, high-compression engines (this includes turbocharged and supercharged engines) – need a fuel that won’t burn too soon, as the result of high pressure and heat inside the engine’s cylinders – before the spark plug fires.

Which will resist combustion until the piston’s at just the right point in its travel – and not until the ignition system fires the spark plug.

High octane fuel fits that bill.

Other engines don’t have high cylinder pressure (comparatively) and so don’t need high-octane gas that is more resistant to spontaneously combusting due to high heat/pressure. They need fuel that burns more readily at lower pressures/heat.

Lower octane gas fits that bill.

This is why there is currently the option to choose the fuel with the right octane rating for your particular car’s engine. High-octane “premium” – generally, unleaded gasoline with an octane rating of 90 or more. And “regular” – generally, unleaded gasoline with an octane rating of 87 or so.

What if that choice were taken away? What if you had to pump the wrong octane fuel into your car’s tank?

Were effectively forced to pay extra for the fuel – as well down the road, in the form of lower mileage?

And very possibly, shorter engine life.

There’s a movement afoot whose object is precisely that – to make high-octane (95octane) fuel the only fuel generally available. General Motors, in particular, is hard-selling the idea – touting it as a way to increase the power and fuel economy of new cars. Which it would . . .  assuming all new car engines are designed to burn high-octane fuel.

But what about the millions of cars still on the road powered by engines not designed for it?

They, apparently, do not matter.

They’ll suffer mileage (and power) reductions. Or rather, their owners will suffer them. People who thought they’d save 30-50 cents per gallon on gas by purchasing a car that doesn’t need high-octane gas will be in for what might as well be a major tax hike on the cost of fueling their cars.

The proposal to make all gas high-octane gas will also help attrite those cars off the road, because in all probability, more ethanol will be added to gas. And those cars are not designed for that, either.

This is not being talked about much in news coverage of the proposal.

It ought to be.

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