Aren’t all fuel brands basically the same?
It’s one of the most commonly-asked questions. This question is almost always followed with “If the fuel is the same, why aren’t fuel prices the same?”
These questions reveal two of the most commonly-held myths about fuel. When you look beyond the fluctuations of supply and demand, the main reason that fuel prices differ is that different fuel brands contain different additives.
Most well-recognized brands of fuel contain additives designed to improve the performance and maintain the condition of vehicles. Fuel additives are often the result of privately-funded research and many oil companies own proprietary formulas that are added exclusively to their products.
Some of the most common additive types and their uses include:
- Ethanol and other alcohols: reduce carbon monoxide emissions
- Antioxidants and stabilizers: prevent oxidization (rust)
- Antiknock agents: improve vehicle performance and fuel economy
- Fuel dyes: identify different types of fuel for improved safety (protect against using the wrong type of fuel by mistake)
- Detergents: prevent carbon build-up and optimize vehicle performance
These are some of the most common types of fuel additives used in highway motor vehicles. Fuel additives are becoming increasingly regulated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires the registration of all fuel additives available for use in highway motor vehicles. Specialized additives are also used in auto-racing, diesel, and aviation fuels.
Although unbranded fuel retailers might boast rock-bottom prices per gallon, their product may vary dramatically in terms of quality and ability to deliver fuel economy. On the other hand, branded retail businesses only sell product under their brand name. When in doubt, customers looking for a reliable product are more likely to buy from a fuel retailer brand they recognize.