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Are your brakes up to scratch?

Action Auto Racing
Action Auto Racing

This month, we’re all about brakes at SVS Autocare.

They are often something drivers take for granted… until they don’t function correctly.

Many a rear-end collision has occurred due to faulty brakes and it is a component of the car that can be difficult to inspect for yourself. This is why SVS Autocare ensure that every vehicle we service has their brakes thoroughly inspected so we can monitor how thick your brake pads are and recommend replacements as needed.

Of course, things like driving style and the make-up of the compounds in different makes and models of cars means the length of time brake pads last is very subjective, which is why it is also important for you to pay attention whenever you experience

  • Sponginess in the brake pedal
  • Vibration in the brake pedal
  • Squealing, grinding or scraping noises when the brakes are applied.

These are all signs that your brakes need attention and the sooner this is addressed, the safer you and your loved ones will be when travelling in your vehicle.

WIN this February with SVS Autocare

Book your car in for a service with us during the month of February and you will go into a draw for us to cover the costs of the labour for your next service to the value of $194.92.

Visit to book online, or contact our professional team on the Sunshine Coast on 5456 4859 or in Brisbane on 3891 3300 for a fast and efficient booking over the phone.

We look forward to seeing you soon.

Our Top 10 Tips and Tricks for Car Care

top 10 tips and tricks for car care
top 10 tips and tricks for car care
  1. Our top 10 tips and tricks for car care - image 1Use toothpaste to clean your headlights – if your headlights are looking a little dull or cloudy, buff them with toothpaste and a soft cloth and you’ll be surprised how amazing they look.
  2. Create a car bin – keep your vehicle neat and tidy by having a small bin in the backseat. You can craft one out of a plastic cereal container and just add a plastic bag inside.
  3. Check your mirrors are set correctly – safety experts recommend that no part of your car should appear in your mirrors so that you can negate blind spots.

– All your mirrors should slightly overlap your field of view –
See this neat diagram we found from Car and Driver:

Our top 10 tips and tricks for car care - image 2

  1. Use a shower caddy to keep kid’s meals on their laps and not on your seats or floors.
  2. Get a parking app on your phone so you never forget where you left your car, or take a photo on your smartphone whenever you park the car.
  3. A shoe organizer from the dollar store is a great way to organize all your travel supplies; hang it on the back of the front seats and you have everything within reach.
  4. Cool a car down without air conditioning by rolling down one window and then opening and closing the door on the other side five to six times. Your car will cool down without the need for air-conditioning by sending all the hot air out the window.
  5. Keep a microfibre cloth in your centre console so you are always ready for any spills, or you can dust off the dash while you’re sitting in traffic and notice all the dust build up!
  6. When you next clean the inside of your car, put a few drops of your favourite essential oil on the cloth you use to wipe down your car seats so that the lovely aroma lingers in the car.
  7. Each time you fill up your car with fuel, check your tyre pressure to make sure they’re all at the right levels so you’re getting the best fuel economy.

Keep calm and know your dashboard:

Cars are incredible machines and year on year their technology expands bringing you safer, more efficient and more powerful driving experiences. Although they may be mechanical wonders, they are not immune to faults or damage, but luckily when something does start to go wrong your car is able to tell you what’s happening beneath the hood…. so long as you know how to read the signals!

Taking time to understand your vehicle’s warning signals will not only reduce the stress levels when you see your dash illuminate, but you could also save yourself time and money by accurately understanding the message your car is sending.

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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 1ECU / Engine Warning Light

If you see this warning light you’ll probably also experience other unusual symptoms including loss of power as your car goes into safe mode, or a stuttering as you accelerate. Although it may only be a small issue such as faulty wiring, any time the engine warning light illuminates you should get your auto technician to look at it as soon as possible.

It may be a bigger issue than you think and driving around with a faulty engine could continue to cause damage to your car.

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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 2Coolant Warning Light

This could either mean your coolant levels are low and need a top up (check the gauge on the side of the coolant tank under the bonnet) or your engine is overheating. If your coolant levels are fine then book in with your auto technician to take a look.

If your engine gets too hot it can breakdown, taking one small problem and turning it into a big expensive problem for you… so don’t let that happen!


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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 3Brake System / Brake Fluid Warning Light

Get this checked by your auto technician ASAP… you don’t want to drive anywhere with dodgy brakes.

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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 4Battery Charge Warning Light

Your battery charge warning light should illuminate when you first turn your car on, but if it doesn’t go out a few seconds after the engine starts, there could be a problem with your car’s electrical system.


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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 5Airbag Warning Light

This warning indicates an airbag in your vehicle is malfunctioning. Although you may think you can get away with leaving this a while you never know when you will need your airbag to deploy. I’m sure you also don’t want the airbag to deploy unexpectedly while you’re driving along… it may cause a crash.

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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 6Tyre Pressure Monitor Warning Light

If this warning light comes on you may have a puncture in your tyre setting off the tyre pressure monitor. Pull over and take a look at all your tyres to make sure.


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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 7DPF / Diesel Particulate Filter Warning Light

Most modern diesel vehicles are fitted with a diesel particulate filter, which removes harmful soot from the exhaust gases to reduce emissions.

top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 8If this is faulty it’ll trigger a warning light and could not only mean you’re releasing a toxic cloud of black smoke every time you press the accelerator, but that you could be causing damage to your engine. Get this checked out straight away as DPFs can become blocked and can be expensive to replace.

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top 10 car care tips and tricks - light 9Oil Warning Light

Your oil warning light may flash up if your oil temperature gets too high, the level is low or oil pressure too low. It’s the latter two you want to avoid at all costs.

Oil is what lubricates your engine, with the oil pump used to spray the fluid to all corners of your engine. If temperatures get too high, or even worse, level is low or oil pressure drops, the effectiveness of the lubrication can be reduced or lost all together.

The result? Expensive engine damage, so if you see this warning sign, stop and phone a professional right away.


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Warning light woes:

It could be something as minor as a faulty sensor or a broken wire, or it could be something more serious that, if left unchecked, will cause lasting and expensive damage to your vehicle.

Regular servicing and maintenance can help protect your vehicle from firing off a fault, so keep a close eye on your car and its warning lights to save you money and avoid those expensive garage bills. Phone (07) 5456 4859 to book your next vehicle service with SVS Autocare.

Heard of the ‘Black Death’ in engines? Rather an ominous topic but one in need of discussion!


The Black Death ‘health’ pandemic resulted in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in the years 1346–53! The ‘Black Death’ we are referring to is the name that has been given to the oil sludge epidemic that choked thousands of engines worldwide in the 1980s – well, it’s made a comeback!

Black Death occurs in engines from engine oil gelling or solidifying at temperatures usually lower than 100 degrees Celsius. This causes black ‘sludge’ or gel building up in an internal combustion engine causing problems that, when severe, may require the engine to be replaced.

Black sludge build up is usually caused by poorly designed or defective crankcase ventilation systems, low engine operating temperature, faulty injector seals or the presence of water in the engine oil. Lack of maintenance, in particular engine oil changes or using incorrect engine oil in your vehicle can contribute to this issue.

Engine oil is the lifeblood of your car’s engine – select it carefully. There are so many different engine oils on the market today it is difficult to know what to use. We recommend referring to your manufacturers service books, you’ll find the correct oil specifications required for your cars’ engine.

Choosing the correct engine oil will ensure that:

  • The engine parts are protected against wear and corrosion,
  • Impurities are removed from the engine,
  • Friction is reduced in the engine, increasing engine performance and improving fuel efficiency,
  • Compression is boosted in the combustion chambers reducing emissions and increasing engine power; and
  • Heat is absorbed and removed from the engine, preventing hot spots and deformation, warping and failure of moving parts.

We have seen a number of Mercedes Sprinter and Vito vans where injector seals had failed, causing engine oil to ‘spray’ into the head cavity and cause heavy sludge build up. So much so that the sludge has to be ‘chipped’ away in order to access the injectors to rectify the fault. More often than not the injectors are in need of replacement once the sludge has built up to the extent that they are buried in sludge.

We were once presented with a small hatchback car, the client had not serviced the car for 90,000kms! The car had been driven every day and was reported to feel ‘sluggish’. Upon inspection we found the engine heavily ‘sludged’ up and we recommended NOT completing a service as engine damage would occur. As the sludge build up was extreme, completing an engine flush would have cause more problems, especially if pieces of sludge had broken away, lodging in other parts of the engine causing it to fail.

Example of sludge build up as a result of failed injector seals.

The client did not proceed with a service however, we were informed later that the car had been left stationary for 3 months, which had allowed gravity to pull the sludge to the bottom of the engine, the sump, blocking the oil pick up valve and starving the engine of engine oil. The result? A failed engine.

Although that is an extreme case, it’s really important to maintain car servicing to avoid engine damage and sludge build up.

Here’s an example of the appearance of ‘black sludge’ on a BMW engine photographed from the oil filler cap.

If you are concerned about your car’s engine, call into SVS Autocare for a no obligation discussion. One of the team would be happy to help.


Top 8 Tips to help Maintain Your Car

Oil SVS Autocare
Oil SVS Autocare

We’re always asked “how can I keep my car running for years?” our response is always…maintenance and making a few simple checks in between services.

How can I get my car up to and over the 200,000 kms mark?

It’s very likely that you know ‘someone’ who has had their car for years, never had any ‘major’ issues with it and thinks that their car is the best thing since sliced bread. That’s great for the person who owns the car, what about the rest of us who only wish we could say that about our cars.

So what’s their secret?

The fact is, some cars are just great, while others are just… not so great! We’ve all heard the joke about a car being ‘built on a Friday afternoon’, and it’s true, there are some cars that we’d have to file under this title, however these are far and few between as build quality of most cars is generally of a very high standard.

The secret is that proper care and maintenance plays a huge role in helping your car continue in good health for many years. It’s that simple.

Our advice to you would be that in order to get your car up to and over the 200,000 kms mark, it basically comes down to proper care and maintenance, not just by regular servicing but also by thorough inspection and use of appropriate fluids, including engine oils and automatic transmission fluids.

Make sure that the correct type of engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, power steering and brake fluid is used – however, the best oil and fluids in the world will do your engine or automatic transmission system no good if you never change it.

Keep to the manufacturers scheduled servicing, change the items recommended by the manufacturer at each service interval and ensure that the Service Technician who ‘looks after your car’ is doing just that, he’s looking after your car! By that we mean, at the time of servicing, inspecting for wear and tear items on your car and noting if any items are showing signs of wear, for example, inspecting the water pump, is it leaking? How is the power steering pump performing? How does the suspension appear? Is the brake fluid in need of replacement? If costly repairs are to be avoided and or budgeted for, wouldn’t it be good to monitor these items and replace them only when needed? This would avoid large service invoices as repairs can be completed on your timescale not because the repair has been identified as in need of urgent requirement.

Here are our Top 8 Tips to help Maintain Your Car

Tip 1: Check and Change Engine Oil

oilThis is the most important part of maintaining your car. Use the correct engine oil as specified in the manufacturer’s handbook for your car and replace the oil filter – this will ensure your engine runs smoothly for many years.

We recommend: Checking your car’s engine oil level at least monthly to ensure the oil level stays within the engine’s specifications. If you are unsure, pop by the workshop, one of our technicians will gladly check the oil level for you in between services at no cost.

Tip 2: Service the Automatic Transmission

autotransIt’s as important to ensure the automatic transmission fluids are replaced in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations as it is to replace engine oil. Automatic Transmission Fluid does not need to be replaced as quickly as engine oil, however it degrades the same as engine oil and becomes ‘sludgy’, which can cause internal damage.

We recommend: Not delaying the automatic transmission service. Check your service book or call us to confirm when the automatic transmission service for your car is due as it differs from each vehicle.

Tip 3: Check and Complete a Brake Fluid Flush


Brake fluid is a hydroscopic fluid, which means that it absorbs moisture.  The more moisture in the brake fluid the less efficient the braking system will perform.

We recommend: Annual checks of the brake fluid to monitor the moisture level. Particularly for our climate, brake fluid often requires replacement due to the humidity on the Sunshine Coast.

Tip 4: Flush the Coolant System

coolantThe coolant system helps maintain correct engine temperature and protects internal components of the engine, preventing corrosion and deposits from building up. If the coolant level drops it may cause the engine to overheat, which may cause significant engine damage.

We recommend:  Flushing the coolant system as per the service schedule.  We also recommend checking the level of the coolant at the same time as when you check the engine oil.

 Tip 5: Replace Front and Rear Diff Oils

The ‘diff’ (differential) ‘drives’ the wheels while allowing them to rotate at different speeds. In vehicles without a differential, both driving wheels are forced to rotate at the same speed. It is important to replace the diff oils in accordance with the service schedules to ensure smooth running of the drive train.

We recommend: Replacing the diff oils as per the service schedule.

 Tip 6: Grease Moving Parts

Anything with moving parts needs grease! Including the wheel bearings, u-joints, balls joints, some suspension components and even door mechanisms.

We recommend: Ensure that the ‘moving’ components are greased as part of the annual service.

Tip 7: Protect the interior of Your Car


The harsh sun in our region can cause interior trims to discolour and degrade causing the car to appear older and devalue quicker.

We recommend: If possible park in the shade, use a sun shade and apply a UV protectant to prevent interior trims to dry out.

Tip 8: Protect the Exterior of Your Car

exteriorRegularly clean the exterior of your car and apply a good quality wax at least every six months. Ensure to wash the underside of your car to remove any sand from driving close to or on the beach.

We recommend: If possible wash your car weekly and apply a good quality wax every six months, once before summer and again before winter to help protect the paintwork.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our top tips, please feel free to call us for any further information, or register to attend one of our information events where we demonstrate these tips.

Happy and Safe Motoring from the team at SVS Autocare.

From the Bentley factory in the UK to SVS Autocare on the Sunshine Coast

IMG 3940
IMG 3940

Fortunately for SVS Autocare, we have one of the Bentley Factory Master Technicians in our midst. Nicholas Wilkinson joined SVS Autocare just over a year ago and has fast become a valued member of our ‘family’. Nicholas worked alongside his father and brother at the Bentley factory, Crewe, UK for many years before moving to the Sunshine Coast. He brings with him a great appreciation for the finer things in life, such as quality craftsmanship and expertise.

Bentley Motors was founded by W.O. Bentley. The first car to bear his name pulled out of New Street Mews, London in 1919. From modest beginnings, the company moved from strength to strength – in a relentless pursuit of both luxury and performance.

Were it not for the brand’s five victories at Le Mans in the 1920s, plus a sixth in 2003, this combination could be seen as a contradiction in terms. In which case, it could be said that Bentley continues to create the most acclaimed contradictions on the road today. Almost a century later, W.O.’s vision continues to guide Bentley’s beliefs, actions and ambitions. Located in Crewe, England and owned by Volkswagen AG since 1998, Bentley Motors remains the definitive British luxury car company, crafting the world’s most desirable high performance grand tourers.

Our growing customer base of Bentley owners love nothing more than dropping by for a chat with Nicholas who most recently worked on this car, not only while it was being built in the Crewe workshop in the UK but also for its regular servicing at SVS Autocare on the Sunshine Coast.

Nicholas offers a clear window into the world of the Bentley brand. Pop in for a chat to Nicholas.

IMG_3942.JPG CarImage

What exactly do Power Steering Pumps do?

The Power steering system in your car (also known as power assisted steering (PAS) or steering assist system) helps you steer without a large amount of effort at the steering wheel. Hydraulic or electric actuators add controlled energy to the steering mechanism, so the driver needs to provide only modest effort regardless of conditions. Power steering helps considerably when a vehicle is stopped or moving slowly. Also, power steering provides some feedback of forces acting on the front wheels to give an ongoing sense of how the wheels are interacting with the road; this is typically called “r?ad feel”.

Representative power steering systems for cars augment steering effort via an actuator, a hydraulic cylinder, which is part of a servo system. These systems have a direct mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the linkage that steers the wheels. This means that power-steering system failure (to augment effort) still permits the vehicle to be steered using manual effort alone.

Other power steering systems (such as those in the largest off-road construction vehicles) have no direct mechanical connection to the steering linkage; they require electrical power. Systems of this kind, with no mechanical connection, are sometimes called “drive by wire” or “steer by wire”, by analogy with aviation’s “fly-by-wire”. In this context, “wire” refers to electrical cables that carry power and data, not thin-wire-rope mechanical control cables.

In other power steering systems, electric motors provide the assistance instead of hydraulic systems. As with hydraulic types, power to the actuator (motor, in this case) is controlled by the rest of the power-steering system.

Some construction vehicles have a two-part frame with a rugged hinge in the middle; this hinge allows the front and rear axles to become non-parallel to steer the vehicle. Opposing hydraulic cylinders move the halves of the frame relative to each other to steer.

Most power steering systems work by using a hydraulic system to multiply force applied to the steering wheel inputs to the vehicle’s steered (usually front) road wheels.[11] The hydraulic pressure typically comes from a gerotor or rotary vane pump driven by the vehicle’s engine. A double-acting hydraulic cylinder applies a force to the steering gear, which in turn steers the roadwheels. The steering wheel operates valves to control flow to the cylinder. The more torque the driver applies to the steering wheel and column, the more fluid the valves allow through to the cylinder, and so the more force is applied to steer the wheels.[12]

One design for measuring the torque applied to the steering wheel has a torque sensor – a torsion bar at the lower end of the steering column. As the steering wheel rotates, so does the steering column, as well as the upper end of the torsion bar. Since the torsion bar is relatively thin and flexible, and the bottom end usually resists being rotated, the bar will twist by an amount proportional to the applied torque. The difference in position between the opposite ends of the torsion bar controls a valve. The valve allows fluid to flow to the cylinder which provides steering assistance; the greater the “twist” of the torsion bar, the greater the force.

Since the hydraulic pumps are positive-displacement type, the flow rate they deliver is directly proportional to the speed of the engine. This means that at high engine speeds the steering would naturally operate faster than at low engine speeds. Because this would be undesirable, a restricting orifice and flow-control valve direct some of the pump’s output back to the hydraulic reservoir at high engine speeds. A pressure relief valve prevents a dangerous build-up of pressure when the hydraulic cylinder’s piston reaches the end of its stroke.

The steering booster is arranged so that should the booster fail, the steering will continue to work (although the wheel will feel heavier). Loss of power steering can significantly affect the handling of a vehicle. Each vehicle owner’s manual gives instructions for inspection of fluid levels and regular maintenance of the power steering system.

The working liquid, also called “hydraulic fluid” or “oil”, is the medium by which pressure is transmitted. Common working liquids are based on mineral oil. Some modern systems also include an electronic control valve to reduce the hydraulic supply pressure as the vehicle’s speed increases; this is variable-assist power steering.

source: wikipedia

Can ‘Aftermarket’ Automotive Workshops ‘talk’ to my car? We can at SVS Autocare…

How do we ‘talk’ to your car? Through your vehicle’s Engine Control Unit or ECU using dealership diagnostic computers.

So what is an ECU?

An ECU controls a series of actuators on an internal combustion engine to ensure optimal engine performance. It does this by reading values from a multitude of sensors within the engine bay, interpreting the data using multi-dimensional performance maps (called lookup tables), and adjusting the engine actuators accordingly. Before ECUs, air-fuel mixture, ignition timing, and idle speed were mechanically set and dynamically controlled by mechanical and pneumatic means.

The ECU also controls the engine performance for the control of air/fuel ratio and controls the ignition timing. It is also responsible for controlling, amongst other things the variable valve timing and the electronic valve control. In a nutshell it is the ‘brain’ of your car, monitoring performance and engine efficiency and setting off engine warning lights if something is faulting within the engine.

Should an internal fault occur in one of the engine systems, fault codes are stored at the ECU, computerised diagnostic computers engage with the ECU to access these fault codes and identify the fault. The faults are identified by the on-board diagnostics (OBD) of your vehicle, which is an automotive term referring to a vehicle’s self-diagnostic and reporting capability.

When a sensor voltage falls out of specifications, the ECU will illuminate a “CHECK ENGINE, SERVICE ENGINE SOON, OR MAINTENANCE REQUIRED” light at the instrument cluster. The ‘warning light’ means the ECU has received a bad reading from at least one sensor.

OBD systems provide an ability to access the status of the various vehicle subsystems. The amount of diagnostic information available via OBD has varied widely since its introduction in the early 1980s versions of on-board vehicle computers. Early versions of OBD would simply illuminate a malfunction indicator light or “idiot light” if a problem was detected but would not provide any information as to the nature of the problem. Modern OBD implementations use a standardised digital communications port to provide real-time data in addition to a standardised series of diagnostic trouble codes, or DTCs, which allow one to rapidly identify and remedy malfunctions within the vehicle.

Did you know that in 1968 it was Volkswagen who introduced the first on-board computer system with scanning capability, in their fuel-injected Type 3 models.

So what happens is the engine warning light illuminates? Can I take it to an ‘Aftermarket’ workshop rather than the dealership?

The answer to that is simple…you can take your car anywhere that has the correct diagnostic computer to engage and talk to your vehicles’ ECU.

The workshop will engage the relevant diagnostic computer to your make of vehicle and complete a scan to read the OBD computer trouble codes. Once the diagnostic computer has completed a diagnostic test, the relevant trouble code number/s are found and the workshop are able to locate the cause of the fault, like “MAP sensor voltage low” and so on. The diagnostic computer can erase the codes from the ECU and a test drive may be completed on your vehicle. Upon return to the workshop, the ECU is rechecked to find out if the codes has cleared or returned. If it has returned, further investigations may be required.

SVS Autocare are the European Vehicle Specialists on the Sunshine Coast and have the latest computerised diagnostic computers for a range of vehicles, including:

  • Porsche
  • Lamborghini
  • Bentley
  • Mercedes – including AMG models
  • Audi
  • BMW
  • VW
  • Skoda
  • Plus generic diagnostic computers for non-European vehicles.


SVS Autocare proudly care for many prestige European vehicles and are able to provide an extremely high level of service as a proud owner would seek.


What is a purge valve and charcoal canister?

A purge valve is the part of the vehicle Evaporative Emission Control (EVAP) system.

The EVAP system prevents fuel vapours in the fuel tank from escaping into the atmosphere. The EVAP system traps fuel vapours from the fuel tank and temporarily stores them in the charcoal canister.

When the engine is running under certain conditions, the fuel vapours are purged from the canister and burned inside the engine.

The purge valve precisely controls the amount of fuel vapour that is purged from the charcoal canister.

In modern cars, the purge valve is an electrically-operated solenoid that is controlled by the engine computer (Engine Control Unit – ECU).

When the engine is off, the purge valve is closed. When the engine is running and fully warmed up, the engine computer gradually opens the purge valve to allow some amount of fuel vapour to be moved from the charcoal canister to be burned in the engine. The purge flow is monitored by a number of sensors. If the purge flow is less or more than is expected under the conditions, the computer illuminates the “Check Engine” light.

The Real Cost of Buying Cheap Fuel

apex seals
apex seals

We are often asked the question of whether cheap fuel is a false economy and our response is a resounding YES!

The price difference between the two fuels at the bowser doesn’t translate into hip pocket savings because ethanol has less energy per litre than petrol, meaning you need to use more of it to achieve the same outcome.

Drive put the three fuels to the test, driving three identical Toyota Camrys more than 2000 kilometres in a range of conditions to see which fuel drives your dollar further.

The E10-fuelled Camry in the test cost $276.55 to run, while the regular unleaded version cost $271.56 and the premium unleaded fuel version, which cost, on average, 15 cents a litre more than E10, cost $285.54. The car running on premium unleaded consumed 9.06 litres/ 100km, compared with 9.41L/100km for the regular unleaded car and 9.81 litres for the E10 vehicle.

The test-drive route covered a range of conditions, from freeway driving to off-peak and peak-hour city driving. City driving exposed E10’s efficiency shortcomings more than highway cruising.
Around town using E10 was almost as expensive as using premium unleaded, despite the huge gap in pump prices. In the700 kilometres of city driving, our E10 Camry used almost 10 litres more fuel than our premium-fuel car. The comparative fuel bills for the three cars were: E10, $105; premium, $105.91; and regular unleaded, $100.33.


Below is another article that explains the differences in more detail.

RON? Not your next-door neighbour

What does the RON number mean in regard to petrol?

Unleaded fuels carry a RON (Research Octane Number) rating. Put simply, RON determines petrol’s ‘anti-knock’ quality or resistance to pre-ignition; or if you want to put in another way, the Octane Number denotes its resistance to detonation.

If you run your vehicle on low octane petrol you might notice a ‘knocking’, ‘rattling’, or ‘pinging’ sound (as it’s often called), which means the fuel is detonating instead of burning smoothly. This is not only a waste of energy, but it can also damage your engine in the long run. Burning is the desired effect of any internal combustion engine (not an explosion per se).

Fuel with a higher octane number suitable for your vehicle’s engine will eliminate knocking. Older cars that were designed to run on a lower RON fuel can also benefit from a higher RON, because the older the car and the higher the kilometres, means the engine will have a greater propensity to knock. This is mainly caused by a build-up of contaminants and carbon deposits which, when hot, can cause pre-ignition.

apex sealsRotary engines suffered from this too. As carbon deposits build up on the three apex seals of each rotor, the deposits get so hot, they glow orange with heat and then bang…detonation!
If you’ve ever seen an apex seal with what looks like burnt, corroded and ‘blown’ corners, you’ll know why. So in effect, a higher RON fuel when used in these situations will have a much higher threshold to detonate, therefore reducing that nasty characteristic of detonation.

Different fuels

There may have been times when you’ve pulled up at the petrol station (and apart from feeling like you have just been violated when paying for your go-go juice) and thought to yourself: should I perhaps try XYZ fuel? Is it any better? What should I be using, and could I be using the wrong thing?
Let me quickly go through some basic facts about available fuels.

(ULP) Unleaded Petrol

ULP was produced to replace older-technology petrol which used lead-additive as an upper cylinder lubricant (use of lead was phased out in most countries because of the damaging effects of lead on our health). Vehicles using ULP operate with a catalytic converter. Most vehicles built or imported since 1986, and a number of pre-1986 vehicles, have been fitted with catalytic technology.

ULP has a Research Octane Number (RON) of between 91 and 93. If you have a low mileage car, that isn’t a performance car, there is no need to extend your wallet to anything else but this stuff. It will do the job just fine, especially if the manufacturer of your motor vehicle recommends it. But you may wish to consider the following when making your choice.

(PULP) Premium Unleaded Petrol

PULP is a special blend of petrol with a higher octane rating, that can produce higher engine power, as well as knock-free performance for unleaded cars with a high-octane requirement. So yes, it does give you more performance, and, because it has a higher tolerance towards ‘knock’, it may stop your engine from retarding, assisting the car to run at its optimum.

PULP, usually has a Research Octane Number (RON) of 95/96 and as time goes on, PULP is starting to become the norm. As discussed earlier, perhaps higher mileage and older cars will benefit from running a higher RON to reduce knocking. Of course, if the manufacturer recommends you use 95+ RON fuel, then do that.

As it burns cleaner, and more completely, and can extend the number of kilometres you get out of each tank, there are good environmental reasons for choosing a higher octane fuel.

(UPULP) Ultra Premium

Most oil companies have a specially-named version of UPULP (Castrol Vortex and BP Ultimate are two examples) which has a RON of 98. It is a high-octane unleaded fuel that maximises engine power and performance, burns cleanly (keeping the upper-cylinders clean) as well as producing less pollution. It is more commonly recommended for imported and high performance vehicles.

98 RON is promoted as providing excellent fuel economy. It has low levels of benzene, sulphur and lower aromatics: its sulphur content is 10 times lower than the national standard for unleaded fuels.
For performance cars, 98 RON go-go juice is the norm. But does a car that is designed to run on 95 RON fuel run better on 98 RON fuel? Some swear by it, but from what I have seen, I have no evidence to sustain that theory. Sure, you may get better mileage, but I am skeptical that we would see measurably positive results on the dyno. However, there are certainly exceptions to any rule, and there are just so many variables to consider it’s not worth turning the discussion into argument.

The basic principles of internal combustion technology in cars has changed little; where things have changed however is in programming and in the sophisticated fuel management systems (such as knock sensors) of modern cars.
Knock Sensors

knock sensorsSome engines are fitted with a device called a knock sensor. Regardless of whether your vehicle has a knock sensor or multiple knock sensors, if it has high mileage, a higher RON fuel would be the most mechanically sympathetic thing to do. Why is that?

You see the knock sensors in your engine (if equipped) have a job to do. They protect your engine from knock by retarding timing; but here is the thing – your car ‘has’ to knock first before the knock sensors can do their job! This is not a good start in the first place. When an engine ‘knocks’ the engine temperature soars, and with most modern engines using an all alloy block, heat is bad… very bad.

Older engine blocks were commonly made from iron, and iron has a much higher melting temperature (at around 1,500 degrees centigrade) whereas an alloy block (we’re generalising here) melts at around half that temperature (being approximately 800 degrees centigrade).

Having first-hand experience with race engines that run an engine management system like a MOTEC tuned for a race fuel like ELF W.L.F (World Rally Fuel) at 102 RON ( the FIA limits for racing fuel is 102 octane), I’ve seen an engine ‘melt’ internally after just getting a ‘whiff’ of 98 RON when the engine was tuned for 102. Temps went through the roof and the engine was a throw-away proposition. This gets pretty expensive, let me tell you.

melted piston

Of course this doesn’t happen anywhere near as dramatically with passenger cars built for consumer use, and most race engines don’t employ knock sensors to retard timing. It does however illustrate – at the higher end of the spectrum – just how important running the right RON for an engine can be and just how serious knock is.

So what does all this RON nonsense mean to the average motorist? Does it give you more power like many people suggest? Can you really ‘feel’ that extra power via the driver’s seat? Does a higher RON fuel equal better fuel consumption? The answer to these questions is somewhere between “maybe” and “yes”, but it depends a lot on your car, its state of tune, and how you drive.

So what do you next time you find yourself at the petrol pump?

My advice is reach for the better stuff. Not only are you “spreading the love” to your engine, but you will likely see better mileage and you will be doing your bit for the environment. On the whole, the higher the RON, the cleaner the emissions.

Till next time, Happy and safe motoring.

Octane rating or octane number is a standard measure of the performance of an engine or aviation fuel. The higher the octane number, the more compression the fuel can withstand before detonating (igniting). In broad terms, fuels with a higher octane rating are used in high performance petrol engines that require higher compression ratios. In contrast, fuels with lower octane numbers (but higher cetane numbers) are ideal for diesel engines, because diesel engines (also referred to as compression-ignition engines) do not compress the fuel but rather compress only air and then inject the fuel into the air heated up by compression. Petrol engines (also referred to as gasoline engines) rely on ignition of air and fuel compressed together as a mixture without ignition, which is then ignited at the end of the compression stroke using spark plugs. Therefore, high compressibility of the fuel matters mainly for petrol engines. Use of petrol (gasoline) with lower octane numbers may lead to the problem of engine knocking.[1]


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