Ever buy the lowest grade of gasoline because it’s less expensive? The initial hit to your wallet might be easier, but depending on what you drive, it could be pricier in the long run.
Shell made that point recently in Times Square in New York, which was transformed into a mock gas station to launch the new V-Power Nitro+ grade of premium fuel. Available now at all Shell stations across Canada, it replaces the previous V-Power premium fuel.
“Of the cars sold in 2013, the engine manufacturers recommend premium for 40 per cent (of them),” says Istvan Kapitany, executive vice-president of Shell retail. “The cars are getting more sophisticated and efficient, and they require a better-quality fuel in terms of octane.”
At 91 octane, the new Nitro+ has the same rating as the V-Power it replaces, but also includes a new additive package that the company says will reduce engine gunk, corrosion, and wear. It also contains no ethanol.
Engines contain pistons, which move up and down to turn a central crankshaft. That shaft’s spinning motion eventually turns the wheels, similar to the way your legs drive a bicycle forward. Power is created when a spark plug ignites fuel vapour in the combustion chamber and the resulting energy forces the piston down. Because the combustion chamber is hot, fuel can sometimes spontaneously ignite before the spark plug fires, creating pre-ignition or engine knock, named for the knocking or pinging sound it makes.
The higher the level of octane in the fuel—indicated by the numbers 87, 89, or 91 that you see at the station—the less likely it is to pre-ignite. Any engine can safely use premium fuel, but it is often required in performance cars, which are more prone to pre-ignition because of their higher compression.
On older cars, engine knock can potentially cause serious damage. Newer vehicles have knock sensors, which adjust the spark plugs’ firing time when necessary to avoid engine injury. When this happens, the vehicle can be sluggish and will use more fuel, potentially wiping out any initial savings at the pump.
Octane is a molecule in the fuel, its concentration determined during the refining process. Gasoline companies then add proprietary mixtures of additives, including detergents and, in the case of Nitro+, a wear protectant.
“It puts a coating on the metal surface that slows the wear between the mechanical moving parts,” says Joe Russo, a Shell fuel scientist. “The coating lasts as long as you continue to use this fuel. If you switch to something else, that coating will come off.”
Russo says the fuel helps protect against corrosion by isolating the small amount of water that gets into gasoline through condensation in the tank, and also removes gunk. This is the oily black carbon that builds up on the valves that let air and fuel into the engine. If there’s enough of it, it can cause such problems as hard starting, dirtier emissions, or poorer fuel economy. Shell claims its new fuel will remove 60 per cent of engine gunk with the first tank, and “if you continually use it, you will get zero deposits,” Russo says.
The company is aggressively marketing the new fuel because gas is a grudge purchase: you buy it because you need it, not because you’re itching to put something new in your car. Kapitany says only 30 per cent of drivers who need premium fuel are loyal to a brand, and even these customers will use another if they can’t find a station nearby. In addition to showcasing Ferrari at the Times Square event — the company supplies fuel to the Italian automaker’s Formula One cars — Shell has announced a partnership with BMW, which endorses the V-Power Nitro+ for its line of M performance vehicles, and has supplied one hundred 3 Series cars for Shell-branded giveaways in Canada and the U.S.
The New York event also marked the beginning of a test run with a Dodge Charger, specially modified so that half its V8 engine runs on Shell’s fuel, and the other half on competitors’ premium fuels. When it arrives in Los Angeles, it’ll be torn down and examined to compare wear and dirt on each side.
Kapitany says that all of Shell’s fuel grades contain the additive package for gunk, corrosion and wear protection, but that the 91-octane Nitro+ has the largest quantity of it. “It’s the top product and we’re trying to make it better than the competitors’ premium,” he says.
By: Jil McIntosh Special to the Star, Published on Thu Jul 09 2015