The Effects Of Using Low-Quality Fuel In Your Car
With gas prices rising, and consumers closely guarding their wallets, the temptation to cut corners and use inexpensive fuel is strong. For some drivers, it’s irresistible. Unfortunately, while low-priced gasoline will help you shave a few cents off each gallon, it may cost you more in the long run.
Your car’s engine is a durable assembly that should last at least 100,000 miles. If you diligently apply preventative maintenance (e.g. regularly change the oil, replace the oil filter, etc.), it may last twice as long, or even longer. But even something seemingly innocuous, such as cheap fuel, can slowly erode your engine’s performance and life.
This article will describe the consequences of using low-priced, low-quality fuel in your car. You’ll discover that paying a few pennies more per gallon will help you avoid costly repairs down the road.
Dirty Fuel System Components
Inexpensive gas can lead to deposits that accumulate throughout your fuel system. These deposits can cause a number of problems depending on where they form. Normally, gasoline contains additives that prevent such deposits, but even these additives can accumulate. For this reason, gas contains additional compounds to counteract the deposit-forming action of the additives. The compounds, however, often accumulate inside the combustion chamber.
High-quality gas usually contains a special compound called polyetheramine. It helps prevent deposits caused by other compounds, which in turn keeps the individual components of your fuel system clean. The problem is, it costs more.
Filling stations that sell low-priced gasoline cannot afford to add polyetheramine to their products since doing so will lower their already slim profit margins. Moreover, this part of the industry is largely unregulated. Station owners can choose the amount and quality of the additives they include in their fuel blends.
So, what are the effects of using gas with fewer additives, or those of lower quality? First, deposits can form inside the cylinders. This can lead to spark knock (we’ll cover this in more detail below). Second, they can accumulate inside the fuel injectors, and affect the spray pattern.
Your fuel injectors are designed to spray gas through the intake valves in a particular pattern. This pattern optimizes the burn rate of the gas inside the combustion chambers. If deposits form within the injectors’ nozzles, they will restrict the amount of fuel sprayed into the chambers. This will “lean out” the air-fuel mixture. The result is misfiring, hesitation, and even stalling.
This problem is made worse if you regularly drive short distances. When you turn off your car, the gas within the nozzles vaporizes, leaving a wax-like material behind. This is called heat soak, a process that accelerates the clogging of the injectors.
Detonation In The Combustion Chambers
Recall that deposits from cheap gasoline can form inside the cylinders. When this occurs, the compression ratio within the combustion chambers rises. This causes detonation (i.e. spark knock) in the engine. Detonation occurs when the air-fuel mixture inside the chambers detonates erratically rather than being ignited by the spark plug. You’ll hear a pinging noise from under the hood. It can eventually cause damage to the pistons and valves.
If you notice detonation, try a higher octane gasoline. An octane rating is a measurement of a fuel’s resistance to spark knock. Here, the problem with low-priced gas stations is that the rating listed on the pump may not accurately reflect the octane in the product. Why? First, because station owners may be encouraged to sell regular gas (i.e. 87 octane) at premium prices (i.e. 91 octane). In other words, you may be paying for higher octane gas without receiving the benefit of using it.
The second reason is because there’s no regulatory agency that strictly enforces a fuel’s octane rating. The industry is left to largely police itself. The majority of gas station owners are honest, but there are a few that fall prey to the temptation to cut corners.
The bottom line is to avoid cheap gas. Spend a bit more money upfront to avoid costly repairs in the future.