Lead Fuel Cars: What Are My Options?

Do you own a lead fuel car and are dreading the day lead fuel is discontinued altogether? Find out what your options are here.
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Published: Friday, March 3rd 2017
General
So, you are the proud (increasingly rare) owner of what is affectionately known as an 'old banger'. It runs on lead replacement petrol (LRP), and are worried your vehicle may be phased out altogether. Buying a car is expensive, and you may feel like you have no other option. Well, you do. While it's true, South Africa is slowly phasing out LRP in order to move towards more cleaner fuels, you do have options going forward. According to fuel company BP, less than 2.5% of SA’s cars use LRP. And, there’s no legislation forcing local service stations to sell it.
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Fuel Options For Lead-Dependent Cars

lead fuel cars, lead fuel, unleaded fuel, lead fuel performance

1. Unleaded Petrol Improves Performance

The AA confirmed that most engines manufactured in the early 90s can use unleaded petrol without any modification and actually shows improved performance. The AA have said that an alarming amount of vehicles still fill up with lead fuel, as there is a common belief that leaded fuel is cheaper. This is factually incorrect. Leaded fuel costs the same amount as unleaded petrol.

2. Valve Seat Recession Issues And How To Solve Them

The biggest issue for older vehicles (typically manufactured before 1996) using unleaded fuel is valve seat recession (VSR). VSR is the accelerated wear of the valve seat, which can lead to very high temperatures when in operation. If your car is susceptible to valve seat recession, this can be solved by adding an anti-valve seat recession additive to the tank every time you fill up with unleaded petrol. According to BP, there are a number of anti-wear additives available from motor spares retailers. Do your research to ensure you choose an additive with a reputable brand name that is specifically designed to protect valve seats. Make sure you use quantities exactly as instructed on the packaging.

How To Find Out If Your Car Is Susceptible To VSR

Visit the National Association of Automobile Manufactures of South Africa’s website and make use of the vehicle compatibility chart to check if your lead fuel car is listed. Should valve seat recession indeed be an issue, your first option is adding an anti-valve seat recession additive to the tank every time you fill up with unleaded. Protection is especially needed when the vehicle is operated under high engine speed or high load conditions for a prolonged period of time. This is due to the high engine temperature, which could accelerate the wear and tear of your valve seat. Your other option would be to remove the cylinder head and fit hardened valve seats. This enables the engine to run on unleaded without the need for an additive.

4 Facts About Lead Fuel

  1. “Tetraethyl lead” was used in early model cars to help reduce engine knocking, boost octane ratings, and help with wear and tear on valve seats within the motor.
  2. It was discontinued in many countries, due to concerns over air pollution and health risks.
  3. Lead fuel boosts the octane rating (the measurement of engine performance) and acts as a lubricant between the contact surfaces of the exhaust valves and the valve seats in the cylinder head. The higher the octane number, the more compression the fuel can withstand before detonating (igniting).
  4. Certain older vehicle engines (pre mid-eighties) were made with soft metal valve seats, as they were protected by the lead in the petrol.
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