Set to roll out across petrol station forecourts this summer, E10 will be the standard choice of green-pump fuel. Replacing the current E5 standard, the switch to E10 comes as part of the government’s plans to reduce transport carbon dioxide emissions by 750,000 tonnes.
Despite optimism surrounding reduced CO2 emissions, concerns have also been raised as to E10’s performance and its compatibility with older vehicles. To clear up any issues, we’ll explain what E10 petrol is, how it differs from the E5 variety, and whether your car is compatible with it.
The current petrol E5 petrol grade you’ll see in fuel stations across the country contains up to 5% ethanol, with the other 95% being regular unleaded petrol.
E10, as the name suggests, increases this ethanol content to 10%. Ethanol helps cut emissions when cars burn petrol, and since it’s manufactured from plants, it’s a renewable source of energy too. What’s more, as we’ve seen in the likes of Brazil, it’s entirely possible to run cars on pure ethanol alone.
Essentially, E10 contains less carbon and more ethanol than fuels which are currently on sale, producing fewer emissions and making it a safer option for the environment.
The introduction of E10 in the UK coincides with a push to meet CO2 targets before the ban on the sale of new petrol and cars by 2030 comes into effect.
Because of its greater use of ethanol and reduced reliance on fossil fuels needed to produce the fuel, it’s hoped that E10 will contribute towards helping the country meet these targets.
According to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, the resulting reduction in CO2 emissions could be up to 750,000 tonnes – the same amount as taking 350,000 cars off the road. While that may sound like a lot, there are 38.9m licenced vehicles in Great Britain, so the introduction of E10 has the equivalent effect of reducing the number of cars by less than one percent.
Nevertheless, E10 is a move towards the benefits of reduced emissions before electric cars become the norm in 2030.
In short, if your car was built after 2011 then the answer is yes. Essentially, every petrol car since then has been required to support E10. That means, according to the Department for Transport, 95% of cars on the road today will be able to run on E10.
And even if your car is a little older, then you’ll most probably be able to use E10 with it without issue. That’s because cars built since the early 2000s have supported E10. If you aren’t sure, however, then there’s a handy vehicle checker on the government website to clear up any confusion.
So, what does that leave in the remaining 5% that aren’t compatible? Anything that could be deemed a classic car, was built before 2000, scooters with an engine size of 50cc, or under and a handful of specific models (particularly high-performance vehicles) won’t run on E10. And any VW Golf Mk. 4 (1997-2003) and Mk. 5 (2003-2008) owners out there should take note: E10 is not expected to be compatible with these variants.
All told, it’s been said that around 600,000 vehicles will not be compatible with the fuel. Keep in mind, this only affects petrol cars. Drivers of diesel cars can carry on as usual.
There are a few different options available if your car isn’t compatible with E10 petrol.
Since it’s only regular 95 octane fuel that’s required to contain up to 10% bioethanol, you can still opt to use ‘premium’ fuel grades of 98+ (such as Shell V-Power, BP Ultimate or Tesco Momentum). Although it costs more per litre, the upshot is better performance and a potentially improved fuel economy as a result.
Alternatively, if your car’s seen better days, then it may be time to part exchange it for something that will run on E10 instead.
According to the RAC, if E10 petrol is put in an incompatible car, it will still run. However, prolonged usage in a non-compatible car can result in long-term damage to the engine. This is because the ethanol in E10 has a high solvency which can affect seals and gaskets used in certain fuel systems.
Unlike when you accidentally put diesel in a petrol car, or vice versa, you don’t need to drain the tank to avoid doing permanent damage if you use E10 by mistake.
So, if you do fill up with E10, using one tank of the fuel should be fine. However, you should return to using super unleaded or premium next time you need to fill up. In fact, the RAC recommends that in the event of accidental E10 use, you should mix it with E5 after you’ve used between a third and half of the tank, to reduce the effects of E10 on your engine.
When it becomes the standard fuel across the UK from September 2021, E10 will be available at petrol stations across the country. However, buying E5 petrol may become a little more difficult.
The RAC has stated that certain retailers will not have the capacity to be able to provide both E5 and E10 petrol on forecourts. This means that incompatible vehicles in rural areas are most likely to be affected by the switch.
Although the government initially claimed that the introduction of E10 would not impact petrol prices, a more recent impact assessment has found the fuel will cost approximately 0.2p per litre more than current E5 petrol. That means a £1 increase if you were to fully refill a 50-litre fuel tank.
The same assessment also found that the energy content of E10 is marginally less than that of E5. Drivers of petrol vehicles will find economy decreases and more trips to the pump will be required as a result. The overall fuel cost for petrol cars is expected to increase by 1.6% when the switch takes place.
This also means that E5 petrol will become a more expensive “super” grade. Incompatible cars will pay more to fill up; super unleaded petrol is currently 12p per litre more expensive than regular unleaded.