How to Choose the Right Fuel Octane for My ATV/UTV
A lot of riders never think much about choosing the best octane fuel for their ATV or UTV. The truth is, if you care about your machine, you’ll pay attention to choose the right fuel for your ATV or UTV. It will completely shift the way that your machine performs, as well as drastically improving the lifespan of the engine. Cheap fuel can lead to heavy buildup in the fuel injection system and eventually will decrease the efficiency of your ATV.
You can easily choose the right fuel for your ATV simply by looking in the owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer recommends. This is the fuel that they’ve built the engine to perform with.
Generally, you’ll see recommendations for a fuel with a minimum of 87-octane, or 91-octane, being regular or mid-grade gasoline. They also recommend trying to find fuel that has ethanol content less than 10 percent, but there are some ways to find out how to choose the right fuel for your ATV.
Octane and Ethanol
Before jumping straight into it, it’s important to understand the terms that we’re using when talking about choosing the right fuel octane for your ATV. Without understanding the fuel, it may all mean nothing to you.
What is octane and why does it matter?
Octane refers to the fuel’s stability, or its capacity to withstand compression inside of the cylinders. The higher the number, the more stable the fuel.
If you’re comparing octane levels in North America and Europe, you’ll notice a significant difference that can make you feel like you should move to Europe. The octane ratings are generally much higher in European countries because they only use one parameter to test it. In the US, there are multiple tests run and then combined and averaged out, generally leading to a lower number.
RON and MON tests are slightly different, but tell the user a lot about the fuel they are putting in the tank. In the US, the (R+M)/2 method is used to determine the octane level, while Europeans only use the RON number.
More stable fuel, that with a higher octane number, essentially helps the engine to combust at the right time, and in the right place. An engine works best when combustion happens in sync with the movement of the pistons, and closest to the spark plug. The wrong octane level for your engine can throw an engine off of its rhythm and cause poor performance.
What is ethanol and why does it matter?
Ethanol is an alcohol that is added to fuel in order to reduce the amount of air pollution created through the combustion process. The number you see on fuel represents the percentage of ethanol inside the mixture along with the amount of gasoline.
For example, E-10 is 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. E-85 is 85% ethanol, and only 15% gasoline. A lower percentage of ethanol helps to prevent any issues when the fuel sits in the tank for a long time and goes into what is referred to as ‘phase separation’.
Phase separation is where ethanol slowly separates over time, bonds with water, and sinks to the bottom of the tank. This can quickly cause engine knocking and other issues. If you use your fuel within three months, this usually isn’t a problem.
Choose the Right Fuel for your ATV/UTV
There are loads of different options out there to choose from when trying to help your ATV perform at its best. You can show up at the tank with too many choices, but there’s no need to panic.
All you need to do to choose the right fuel for your ATV/UTV is to check the user’s manual. Here, the manufacturer provides the recommendation for the correct octane and ethanol levels. You want to stay at, or above, the recommended octane levels. A single slip up won’t ruin your engine, but make sure you’re putting the right fuel in the tank for the majority of the time.
Choosing the right fuel for your ATV also means knowing the season. Fuel for an ATV is different in the winter than in the summer. It’s designed to evaporate faster, helping with cold starts. In the summer, they design the fuel to evaporate slower so you don’t lose it all in a short period of time or have phase separation occurring.
Stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations and treat your engine to some premium fuel every now and again to let it perform at its peak and get cleaned up for the next ride.