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High-octane waste - Many motorists buying 90 grade unnecessarily

Published:Friday | September 30, 2016 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
Philip Chong, president of the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association.
Tariq Malik of Carland.
Fuel being pumped into a vehicle.
Premium, regular and diesel prices at a Jamaican station in June this year.

A vehicle's owner's manual states the right fuel for the car. Most cars simply require the lowest grade and lowest octane fuel at the pumps. In Jamaica, that is 87 octane fuel.

The exceptions are usually either speciality cars with high-class construction and engines, or high-performance cars that need a higher-octane fuel to help resist engine knocking because of a hotter combustion chamber.

President of the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA) Philip Chong says using 90 octane fuel is really the preserve of high-performance cars. "The cars that are coming into Jamaica have their specifications about the grade of fuel that should be used. High-performance cars with a higher compression ratio engine would no doubt need to use the higher-grade fuel such as the 90. It will not run efficiently on 87," Chong said.

However, not all octane numbers are the same. A car coming from the Japanese market may specify an octane number that is higher than any of the numbers found in the Jamaican market. In the Japanese market, consumers can find fuel that is anywhere between 95 and 100 octane. These numbers relate to the Research Octane Number (RON). The Jamaican market uses a number that is based on Motor Octane Number (MON) and the Anti-Knock Index (AKI). The MON is generally eight to 12 below the RON. Through a complex web of calculations, 87 octane in Jamaica is about the same as 95 octane in Europe and Japan, while 90 octane in Jamaica would be about 98 in Europe and Japan.

Exxon.com advises that "octane rating is a measure of a fuel's ability to resist 'knock'. The octane requirement of an engine varies with compression ratio, geometrical and mechanical considerations, and operating conditions. The higher the octane number, the greater the fuel's resistance to knocking or pinging during combustion."

It further says that "ordinarily, a vehicle will not benefit from using an octane higher than recommended in the owner's manual".

The industry authority on pre-owned vehicles, Kelly Blue Book at kbb.com, says most cars will run on 87 octane, and using the higher 90 octane is really wasting money. "If your car does not ping on regular, then there is no reason to seek a higher-octane gasoline. The anti-knock level of the regular in this case is adequate for the engine," kbb.com says.




Local used-car dealer Tariq Malik of Carland agrees. "A higher-octane gas for an engine that is made for a lower octane is not necessarily needed, nor is it better for it. It is not a cleaner or better gas," Malik advised.

Malik tells his customers to go ahead and use 87 octane as buying the higher-priced 90 octane is just throwing away hard-earned money without any real benefit.

However, that raises the question of why sell 90 octane if it is generally not needed. Chong says it is just a matter of offering a choice to those who really need it.

"In Jamaica, in the fuel business, it is best to offer a variety of fuel that will cater to the needs of the various cars that come in, whether they be average cars or special, high-performance cars," Chong said.

Examples of those in that category are an M spec BMW, a high-level Mercedes-Ben, or a race-tuned street demon. Otherwise, buying 90 octane gas is literally throwing away money.