Fuel. Love it or loathe it, you’re not going far without it. Unless you’re running around in an electric car you can’t escape the lure of the forecourt and every time you fill up you’re effectively pouring pound coins into the tank at an alarming rate. So you always pick the cheapest you can find, right? After all, your car works on a tank of cheap supermarket unleaded so why spend more on one of the expensive brands?
In the same way as picking the cheapest tyres can be a false economy,picking the cheapest fuel can also turn out to have hidden costs. There’s a reason that those brand names are a few pence per litre more expensive and it’s all to do with the complex additives that are added to the fuel.
Having spent a day with Shell and their team of engineers and scientists I am now convinced, more so than before, that paying a bit more for your fuel will pay dividends in the long run.
What Is Shell V-Power Nitro+?
Remember Shell V-Power? This is the next evolution of that fuel. It’s been designed by the exceedingly clever scientists who work in Shell’s laboratories, the sort of people who wear lab coats every day. It’s designed to do a number of things better than ‘normal’ fuels and the benefits will be felt by your engine, the environment and your purse strings.
Cleaner = Greener
When you look at modern fuel injection systems it’s amazing they don’t fail more often. Both petrol and diesel engines now use complex systems that rely on tiny holes to deliver fuel in an exact amount and with a very specific spray pattern. When I say tiny I mean microscopic, with some systems using holes measuring as little as 7-8 microns across. A human hair is typically 10 microns, so you can imagine how small they are.
It’s vital that those holes are kept clear of the mucky deposits that can build up in an engine. The delicate swirl of fuel that’s squirted into the combustion chamber has to be just right to ensure maximum efficiency. If there’s a blockage, even a little one, it can change the shape of the spray and affect the way the fuel detonates.
Even if you don’t end up with a blocked nozzle the build-up of grime in those narrow fuel pipes and around the inlet valves is bad news. Imagine turning on a garden hose and then standing on it – the flow of water slows and you have to open the tap more to get the same level of flow. In the same way your engine has to work harder to compensate for the restricted flow so keeping those lines clean is crucial to keeping the fuel moving freely.
No More Knocking
Nitro+ unleaded is rated at 99RON, higher than the 95RON of your typical unleaded fuels. I won’t bore you with the details of knock-sensors and ignition timing (mainly because I’ll prove just how bad a mechanic I am) but let’s just say that modern engines like the high octane stuff. With sensors monitoring each cylinder and feeding their results back to the engine’s ECU it can work more efficiently, producing bigger explosions and releasing the maximum amount of bang for your pound.
The result? On modern high performance engines it can produce slightly more power and improve throttle response. That’s the sort of thing we like.
Nitro+ doesn’t just fight muck and grime. There are parts of the engine’s internals that don’t get any lubrication from the oil so it’s up to the fuel to keep things running smoothly. V-Power introduced Shell’s Friction Modification Technology (FMT), a special lube added to the mixture. Now Nitro+ has 25% more of the stuff and that’s to the benefit of your engine’s pistons and piston rings. Less friction means less wear and that keeps the engine running at peak fitness for longer.
FMT was borne out of the partnership between Shell and the Ferrari Formula One team. It’s an area of expertise that Shell can call on to help with the development of their road fuels and is a source of knowledge and testing that most other fuel companies simply can’t match.
Shell were keen to demonstrate the perils of cheaper fuels. We were given the chance to inspect valves caked in crusty muck after being run on cheap fuels and shiny valves that had been run on V-Power Nitro+. The differences were immediately obvious and there was no question of which one I’d prefer to see in my car’s engine.
Then there was the opportunity to inspect a diesel injector with a borescope. Lining the inside of the tiny metal nozzle were clumps of nasty looking black stuff, the result of impurities in the fuel and the sort of thing that can eventually lead to expensive failures of injection systems. These are the the deposits that Nitro+ is claimed to slowly dissolve and remove, restoring your fuel system to peak fitness, and an inspection of an injector that had been running on Nitro+ revealed no signs of muck.
Finally there was Shell’s very clever dual-fuel car. A Golf 1.4 TSI has been modified so that each half of the engine is fed by a separate fuel tank. The two tanks can be filled with any combination of normal fuel, Nitro+ or experimental batches of new fuel. With computers monitoring everything that’s happening inside the engine it gives the scientists an invaluable tool for testing their fuels, as well as demonstrating to sceptical onlookers the difference of the two fuels.
A Marathon, Not A Sprint
It’s interesting Shell made no claims whatsoever about improved economy or performance. They don’t boast that Nitro+ will suddenly turn your fuel guzzler into an eco-warrior or your supermini into a supercar.
No, instead they’re thinking of the long term effects of their fuel on your engine and the beneficial effects of the cleaning detergents and lubricants. By keeping the internals in tip-top condition you avoid the power and economy-sapping build-ups that lead to a gradual decrease in engine efficiency. That’s where the economy benefits are to be found, by keeping your engine running at its best.
The big question is whether Nitro+ can match the bold claims. I’m going to try to find out by running my two cars on Nitro+ for a few weeks. One’s petrol, the other diesel, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens after a few tanks of this new wonder fuel.