What you need to know:
- Paul Kaganzi, the Shell fuels brand ambassador for Uganda, says two decades ago, environmentalists and scientists championed the banning of lead in fuels because of the chemical’s harmful effect on the environment.
- It is not easy for a motorist to detect with the naked eye the difference between good and fake fuel. The biggest adulterant of fuel is paraffin because it is a fuel and mixes well with diesel or petrol.
The main types of car engine fuels on the Ugandan market today are petrol (gasoline) and diesel (automotive gas oil). Petrol is graded according to its ability to resist early ignition. This measure is called octane rating (RON). If the petrol has a high octane number, this improves the power of the car engine and gives it protection.
Paul Kaganzi, the Shell fuels brand ambassador for Uganda, says two decades ago, environmentalists and scientists championed the banning of lead in fuels because of the chemical’s harmful effect on the environment. “Unleaded petrol is approved and sold on the Ugandan fuel market because it is composed of chemicals, such as heptane, which are less harmful to the environment. Recently, bio diesel has been produced from biomass but it is not yet available for public use.”
What type of fuel does a car need
The type of fuel for a specific car is usually indicated by the manufacturer in the user manual. If you drive a used car from Japan, you can download a user manual for your car online.
“Petrol fuels are graded as regular low octane or premium high octane,” Kaganzi says, adding, “Different manufacturers of cars with petrol engines indicate that regular petrol will work in their engines. However, there are some manufacturers, such as, BMW, Ferrari, and Subaru, who recommend use of premium high octane fuel as a way to get optimum performance and engine protection form excessive cylinder knock due to premature ignition.”
Car manufacturers also labelled cars built after the 1990s with the ‘UNLEADED ONLY’ sticker in compliance with the global environmental ban on use of harmful lead in gasoline fuels.
Kaganzi adds that, “Diesel powered engines will use either high sulfur (dirty) or low sulfur (cleaner) diesel grades depending on availability and environmental legislations. Whereas older cars are more tolerant to the efficiency robbing deposits and emissions ash from high sulfur diesel, newer post-1990 cars and those with common rail fuel injection or exhaust systems fitted with diesel particulate filters will break down in a short time when fuelled with high sulfur diesel. Car manufacturers therefore recommend low sulfur diesel suitable for their technology.”
Adulterated fuel on the market
It is not easy for a motorist to detect with the naked eye the difference between good and fake fuel. The biggest adulterant of fuel is paraffin because it is a fuel and mixes well with diesel or petrol. Overtime, outright breakdown will be the first sign of adulteration. A few years ago, the government of Uganda through the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development closed a number of fuel stations across the country over allegations of selling adulterated fuel.
According to Reverend Frank Tukwasibwe, the commissioner of petroleum supplies in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, adulterated fuel is the product of a mixture between high quality fuel and low quality products, which brings about a change in the chemical properties. “This type of fuel is dangerous to a car engine and, in most cases, leads to a breakdown. Though there are incidents of motorists being served adulterated fuel at a fuel station, a number of drivers pollute their fuel unknowingly. Some drivers take their cars to washing bays and the car washers on several occasions mix genuine petrol with water.”
Since the crackdown by government, adulterated fuel is no longer persistent on the Ugandan market. One of the tools used to fight adulterated fuel is a system called fuel marking. This system uses bio marking tools which make it easy to detect fraud and adulteration at specific points in the supply chain in the downstream of the energy or fuel sector. “All fuel that comes to Uganda is tested right from the coast and we also carry out sample tests of some fuel tankers at the border so as to ensure that all fuel coming to Uganda is legitimate,” Tukwasibwe explains.
Barbra Kamusiime, the spokesperson of Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), says incidents of fuel adulteration are quite minimal nowadays. “We always publicise the companies that are found selling adulterated fuel and this has scared away other companies which had similar plans. As UNBS, we have fuel markers which we use to test the quality of fuel.”
Martin Imalingat, the UNBS standards manager, says fighting adulterated fuel is a concerted effort between government and fuel stations. “Managers of these fuel stations need to strictly supervise their employees to ensure that they do not mix the fuels they sell. Laxity of top management in supervision may give room to employees to mix fuel with other products, such as, kerosene.”
Effects of adulterated fuel on a car
Rev Tukwasibwe says that fuel adulteration causes marked effect on the tailpipe emissions of vehicles noting that adulterants alter the chemistry of the base fuel rendering its quality inferior to the required commensurate fuel quality for vehicles. “This, in turn, affects the combustion dynamics inside the combustion chamber of vehicles increasing the emissions of harmful pollutants significantly. In some cases, effects of adulteration are indirect, for example, large scale diversion of rationed kerosene subsidised for household use to the diesel sector for mixing with diesel not only hampers engine performance of diesel vehicles, but also leads to environmental pollution.”
According to Imalingat, when kerosene is mixed with petrol, it results in higher emissions because they do not form a uniform mixture. “This leads to an incomplete combustion, which will also cause engine wear, loss of power and dilution due to the high level of sulphur in kerosene.”
He advises drivers to purchase fuel from official fuel stations and avoid buying from illegal places noting that, in most cases, these unauthorised sellers sell adulterated fuel. “There are people who sell fuel at taxi stages in jerry-cans and sometimes their fuel is cheaper when compared to that sold at fuel stations.”
How can a driver know that the fuel is adulterated?
According to Reverend Frank Tukwasibwe, a driver can know that his fuel is adulterated when the engine gets disrupted within a small mileage. “The typical symptoms are a knocking or rattling noise from the engine, surging as you accelerate or a rough idle.”
Fake fuel in your car will set you back a few thousand shilling in repair or replacing the engine. Tukwasibwe advises the drivers to report any issues concerning fuel adulteration to the appropriate authorities so that their business can be penalised.
Fuels that clean the engine
Petrol or diesel fuel can be blended with detergent additives which improve cleanliness of the car engine intake and fuel injection systems by preventing deposit build up to improve engine efficiency. In 2015, Total introduced a new line of fuels on the global market specifically targeted at cleaning engines and providing lasting protection.
These fuels, Total Excellium Petrol and Total Excellium Diesel were touted as helping the car engines perform better, use less fuels, and produce fewer pollution emissions – which in turn, reduce carbon deposit buildup.
On the other hand, Shell has been blending fuels with cleaning additives since the 1990s. “Currently, Shell offers Fuel Save Diesel and Unleaded, and Premium Shell V-Power petrol.”
The benefits of using the correct type of fuel for a clean and efficient engine can never be overestimated.