Fuel Types

We need fuel to keep our cars and other vehicles working on the road. One day, petrol and diesel will run out so we will need to find alternative fuel resources. However, for the mean time most cars need petrol and diesel fuel to work. Here you can learn a bit more about fuel and the different types available.

Types of Fuel and Octane Ratings

Petrol’s octane rating is a measurement of the fuel’s ability to resist engine knocking. Knock occurs when the fuel-air mix in the cylinder explodes instead of burning in a controlled way. This shockwave moves within the combustion chamber, and creates a metallic ‘pinging’ sound.

An octane rating is often referred to as an ‘anti-knock index’. If fuel has a high octane number, it will have a higher resistance to engine knocking.

Octane Numbers

Usually, there are three different octane numbers associated with all petrols. Petrol’s Research Octane Number (RON) is measured under simple test conditions. Petrol’s Motor Octane Number (MON) is measured under tougher test conditions and at higher engine speed and temperature.

The average of these two values is what becomes related closer to actual driving conditions. This value is known as the Road Octane Number, and is what should be used in filling stations.

Occasionally, some filling stations will confuse these different octane numbers in a bid to embellish on their octane rating claims, and advertise their fuel’s Research Octane Number, which is higher than the Road Octane Number. In many European countries, the Research Octane Number is advertised on pumps, so a much higher octane value is common when travelling in certain countries.

In the UK, the most common petrol types are:

Petrol vs. Diesel

Both petrol and diesel have advantages over one another which, depending on what factors are most important to you, will influence your choice in fuel. Check out the table below for a quick look at which would be the preferable fuel for each category.

Car Tax

Petrol and Diesel PumpsAs some diesel cars can be much for efficient than their petrol equivalent they expel fewer harmful emissions which results in you paying less tax. In fact a test by Which? showed that a “1.4-litre diesel VW Polo BlueMotion, for instance, is exempt from car tax charges under current rules. But the equivalent, 1.4-litre petrol VW Polo is hit with an annual bill of £120.”

Servicing Costs

Routine maintenance and repairs are also a factor that can vary between petrol and diesel vehicles with diesel seen to be the more expensive. However, the fact is that a diesel car would need to be serviced less compared to a petrol car, therefore levelling out the amount it would cost you if you plan on keeping your vehicle for a 3-4 year period.

Resale Value

Unless you are driving around in a classic British sports car, your vehicle’s depreciation is likely to be one of the biggest expenses you’ll be faced with when it’s time to sell. Diesel cars are now generally in high demand, they offer good fuel economy and the opportunity for little to no tax which has become a high priority for car buyers in our current economic climate, and lets not forget where there is demand there is value.


Although it’s well known that a petrol engined car offers better performance, thanks to the advantages in diesel engine technology, the diesel engine is closing the difference between speed, noise and ride.

If you are choosing between either the petrol and diesel versions of the same car then a test drive should point out any differences between performance for you.


The common perception of the clattering diesel engine, although still prevalent when compared to a petrol engine, is becoming much less of an issue as technology progresses.


If you often use your car for towing a trailer or caravan then the increased torque offered by a diesel engine allowing you to pull more may play an important factor in your choice of engine type.


The effect your vehicle has on the environment is a hot issue amongst many motorists. Both petrol and diesel produce emissions that have negative affects on our environment however diesel cars achieve better fuel efficiency and therefore produce less emission over a given distance and compared to petrol.


The price of diesel per litre can be higher than that of petrol in the UK, however the increased fuel efficiency of a diesel car will mean you have to fill up less making for less of a difference between the two.

If price is your main concern then it’s important to consider all the costs associated with the each fuel type over the life of the car as opposed to just the current price at the pumps.

Why Diesel Costs More Than Petrol

Any GCSE chemistry student will tell you that diesel requires less refining than petrol and less crude oil to produce. Hence the heavy clouds of black smoke so characteristically emitted by older generations of diesel powered cars. What may be surprising though, is that within the league rankings of over-priced fuels, diesel is more expensive than petrol. But, if that is indeed the case, then the discerning reader will perhaps be wondering why exactly such cheaply produced diesel should be more expensive than petrol.

Part of the problem is that diesel isn’t actually as cheap to produce as some people think, at least not the modern clean variant anyway. Although diesel requires less crude oil per litre than petrol does to produce, newly established standards for lower sulphur diesel require a more complex refining process therefore making it more costly to produce.

Despite these reductions in sulphur emissions, standard diesel fuel is still taxed more heavily than petrol and it seems to have been the case that diesel users have suffered more than the rest of us. The fact of the matter is that, even with the hike in oil prices, almost three quarters of the petrol station price for any given fuel is government duty. Considering that Britain’s motorists buy over 30 billion litres of fuel a year, that’s a lot of tax.

So which is the best?

When comparing diesel and petrol prices, it is important to remember one thing. One of the key attractions of a diesel powered vehicle is that its engine is generally much more efficient than a petrol run equivalent. This is why diesel cars are usually slightly more expensive. A good diesel engine can get as much as 50mpg compared to the average 30mpg of a normal engine.

Clearly, diesel is more economical in the long run even though it is more expensive per litre. This is slowly changing though. The newest ULP engines are squeezing out more mpg for the same amount of petrol. If petrol cars continue to improve and match the efficiency of their diesel counterparts, then car companies could well find themselves having to think of new reasons why people need to buy diesel.

There is no way to give a definitive answer on whether petrol or diesel is the better choice of fuel given that there are so many variables to consider that will appeal to different needs and driving habits. For example although diesel will give you more miles to the gallon in laboratory condition, driving a petrol car efficiently can give you better performance than if you were to drive a diesel inefficiently.

It’s best then to evaluate your current driving habits and consider exactly what you value in a car when deciding on either a petrol or diesel engine.

Super Fuels

Many of the large petrol companies have launched ‘super fuels’ – petrols and diesels that have a higher research octane level. These fuels are said to increase power in many vehicles, deliver less pollution than regular fuels and help to maintain a cleaner engine. Amongst these ‘super fuels’ are Tesco’s Super Unleaded 99 Octane petrol, supplied by Greenergy, now sold at many stations across the UK.

Using Super Fuels

One of our users commented that using higher octane fuel than your engine requires actually gives no benefit and may be a waste of money. This is because virtually NO engines require 98 RON over 95, and the market for ‘super’ fuels seems to be based on people’s misunderstanding of octane ratings and the placebo effect of filling up with ‘more powerful’ fuel – making motorists think their engine is running better in some way.

What do the fuel companies say then, to justify the “increased power” claims for the super grade fuels? Some companies say that while all fuels contain cleaning additives, ‘super’ fuels contain more or better detergents to keep the injectors cleaner than standard fuel. Others say the fuel is a few percent denser which gives slightly more power per litre. These benefits may be marginal though in comparison to the extra cost involved so it is worth ensuring that your engine will actually benefit before filling up.

Some engines actually do need higher octane fuel, such as race engines with very high compression and some turbocharged engines, such as the import version of the Nissan Skyline. Also, a few vehicles, such as the new BMW K1200R motorbike, can sense knock and adjust their engine tuning to take advantage of higher grade fuels. Another user commented that the 2004 BMW 330 also does this, according to the driver’s handbook it makes 231 BHP on 98 octane and 221 BHP on 95. This ability is apparently widespread amongst German performance cars using Bosch / Siemens electronic engine controls.

For further information on the major fuel companies fuel options see their individual information pages:

Tesco fuel shell fuel logo total fuel logo esso fuel cards texaco fuel logo sainsburys fuel logo asda fuel logo

With demand high and supplies limited Briton’s fuel costs are soaring and set to stay that way. It’s no doubt then that the decision of whether or not to choose a petrol or diesel car has been on the minds of many motorists.