Quality of today's gasoline - better or worse than the past?

I keep hearing that today’s gasoline is junk and causes all kinds of trouble from old timers. They say we are refining lower quality crude oil into gasoline now and this wasn’t possible in the past. They also say the alcohol in the gas is also part of the problem.

Is this true or are modern fuel injected cars just more unforgiving to bad or contaminated fuel? I would have hoped that with all our modern advances in chemistry, our fuels would be cleaner and better than ever. On the other hand, could these advances in chemistry be used to take shortcuts in the refining process?

Has nothing to do with ‘crude quality’. The components of gasoline from oil are pretty much the same, regardless of crude used. Has everything to do with the mandatory ethanol.

Gasolines are immensely better than in the past. Unfortunately, today’s cars are very picky with respect to purity, heat content, and the additives needed for very precise combustion.

Older cars were relatively crude with respect to their fuel systems, could burn almost anything, and mileage was also poor.

You can make top grade gasoline out of almost anything that’s a hydrocarbon. In South Africa during the Apartheid Regime they made it out of coal.

Your oldtimer’s opinion that gasoline quality is the result of poor feedstock (heavy oils) is pure B.S. They’ve got it backwards. In the future, nearly all gasoline will be made from heavy oil. And the quality will be even better.

I agree that ethanol is a poor idea from an environmental point of view.

Other than small engines that can’t tolerate ethanol I think very few people are having fuel related problems today.
Last time I got contaminated gas was 30 years ago. The tank was drained and water was visible.
Back then I’d occasionally get gas from a cheap independent that got lower MPG I believe due to lower heat content.
Ethanol isn’t the only additive that can lower the heat content.
Certainly the detergents etc. have improved over the years.
I’m sure @Triedaq could chime in about when engines had 6:1 compression becuase the octane was so low.
I do remember 100 octane American premium.

@circuitsmith–I’ll chime in. My dad’s 1939 Chevrolet had a compression ratio that must have been lower than 6 to 1. The car came with an emergency crank in case the battery was low and I have seen him start the engine by cranking it by hand. That car would run on any fuel.
My neighbor had an old John Deere tractor that was started by manually spinning a wheel. That wheel was also used to belt the engine to a free standing piece of machinery. The engine was started on gasoline, and after it warmed up, could be switched over to its other fuel tank and run on kerosene. My guess is that it probably had a 4 to 1 compression ratio.
I do remember in the 1980s when ethanol was added to gasoline, I had to crank the engine in my 1978 Oldsmobile quite a while before it would fire. The problem was intermittent and we finally traced it to the gasoline. When I bought gasoline containing ethanol, it had hard starting problems when the engine was hot. There was no problem in the gasoline that did not contain ethanol. In later years, gasoline with ethanol became all that was available, but the blend must have improved because I didn’t have starting problems.

The refining processes haven’t gotten worse, the additive packages have improved, and crude is crude, But, then, along came Big Brother, and forced the introduction of ethanol. In addition to causing problems with old carbed engines in fuel systems that cannot tolerate the ethanol, ethanol creates less power and thereby reduces mileage.

On that basis, the ethanol, I consider modern gas to be lower quality than old gas was.

Gotcha! I know boat owners like to buy alcohol free gas at a premium so they don’t have to worry about the alcohol absorbing water. I know people who run through several tanks during their visit to a lake. They run pump gas for the first few tanks and use the alcohol free stuff before storing the boat.

I really don’t know if it is being near the water or just that it absorbs water the longer it sits.

The ethanol in today’s gasoline has the potential to cause problems in all motors. Fuel injected motors tend to be less susceptible but if the gas sits long enough, problems will begin to occur. The greatest advantage of cars over small engines is, they don’t sit for 6 months with ethanol laced gas in a bowl. The gasoline itself should be fine, especially with additives. Why engineers haven’t come up with an additive to protect motors from ethanol is beyond me…well, not really. The small motor lobby isn’t big enough.
@cwatkin is right. I’m one of those guys who runs ethanol free gas through the outboard motors before storage. It’s a small price to pay for an expensive outboard.

Also, the gas in a car tank is sealed off from the atmosphere while the small engines are not. There is a lot more opportunity for fresh air to get into the tank over time and oxidize the gas.

I have notices there are now two colors of the Stabil fuel stabilizer. The red is the normal version while the blue is for marine use or with ethanol. I guess you could add this to the tank at the pump but for people who burn gas in a modern car, paying anything extra for this wouldn’t be worth it.

All I can say is that I quit having small engine problems when I switched to non-oxy premium using a stabilizer year round. Otherwise the only fuel problem I’ve had was in 1981 with bad diesel and 1988 with a plugged injector on a two year old car.

Lead was everywhere in the old days. Cars would spew it out and it covered the ground in small amounts. Cattle would eat the grass and lead would build up inside them. We would breathe it every day. We blamed paint and everything else but finally got the lead out.

To go without tetraethyl lead we went in search of other additives. One was harmless (MTBE) but would make our water taste like kerosene if a few drops went into our supply.

Our gasoline is both worse and better but our engines are excellent and our computers allow us to have lots of power. We are back to having compression ratios above ten to one. Oxides of nitrogen are under control. Ethanol has some good qualities to go along with the bad ones.

I just wish our fuel sold for $1.399 again. What an economic boost that would be!

it’d be nice to see 25 cents a gallon, but I don’t think I’d want the wages from back in those days. I’m sure the wage I earn now would be doctor/lawyer money back then

@bscar Yes, My summer job in university in the 50s paid all of $450 per month, and gas was 35 cents per gallon, a decent bottle of whisky $3, a case of 24 beer was $3, and it took $3 or so to fill up my Chevy stovebolt 6.

Today, the same size Chevy gas tank needs $50-60 to fill, a case of 24 beers is $16 or so and a bottle of bourbon is bout $15+. Clearly, gasoline has increased faster than other basic “needs”.

It also seems like the middle east wasn’t constantly on the verge of exploding back then. Also, the rest of the world is getting into cars and tapping into the same supply we always took for granted. It does seem like fuel just keeps going up and up in price.

$1.399 is justy about the Fed and State Tax.

Never had a problem with gas from 1970 to 2013, I have stuck to the major brands but given my experience gas problemsz non factor.


Your old monthly salary would make my house payment right now

@bscar Actually, with the field living allowance ( I was a pipeline inspector) 5 of us rented a small summer house and did our own cooking. That left enough to go dancing every Saturday night and have some fun, in addition to saving emough to pay for the next collgae year. Tuition then was a whole $500 per year for engineering.