Most people in Pakistan think petrol is just petrol. Unfortunately that’s not it. Petrol comes with a certain quality, standard of purity and a pre-calculated formula of mixture and obviously not all petrol is good petrol; especially when you are in Pakistan.
Would you be shocked if you are told that Pakistan is (officially) selling one of the the worst qualities of “standard petrol” in the world?
Illegally imported petrol — that’s widely available across Pakistan — is even further degraded in quality that can not only harm your pockets due to low average mileage but it also damages the engine of your vehicle.
How Engines Work
The reason why people end up with ample engine faults is usually because of the low quality petrol.
Engines work by igniting the fuel, resulting in a detonation. Petrol engines rely on combusting air and fuel compressed together as a mixture. Hence, compression is an important factor for petrol engines (compression engines).
Problems Caused by Using Low Quality Petrol
When petrol gets ignited before the intended spark ignition, it results in uncontrolled explosions in the engine. Since these detonations are uncontrolled, it hurts the engine and they fail to last a long time.
People keep getting their engines rebuilt because of this problem. Due to the excess of air or petrol, the explosions exceed the designed limits that engine components can handle. We can say that the fuel explodes instead of burning smoothly. These explosions are generally called “knocks” or “pings”.
In short we can say that low quality petrol causes following issues:
- Engine damage – resulting in regular faults and decreased resale value
- Increased engine noise
- Poor mileage
- Slow acceleration
- Engine shuts down on its own randomly
- Reduced top speeds
- Incomplete combustion causes more toxic emissions
- Modern cars are not designed for low quality petrol
Petrol quality is assessed by measuring the amount of octane in it. It can be measured using an octane rating. The most commonly used method of measuring petrol’s quality is Research Octane Number (RON). You can also say that RON tells petrol’s anti-knock quality.
RON is measured by running the fuel in a test engine. This engine usually has a variable compression ratio under controlled conditions at 600 RPM. The test informs about the amount of octane molecules in the petrol. Simply having more octanes isn’t better, that’s where RON numbers come in handy to identify what’s best.
Other than RON, Motor Octane Number (MON) and Anti-Knock Index (AKI) are also used. MON uses a more demanding 900RPM engine while AKI is calculated using the difference between RON and MON.
Generally, a difference of 1 RON is a lot and can make a lot of difference in how a car operates. Simply switching from 97 to 98 RON can fix a car’s knocking problem, making it run perfectly smooth.
Quality of Petrol in Pakistan
Pakistani petrol stations sell 87 RON petrol as a standard. The same standard is being used for the past 20 years, however, cars, technology and the rest of the world has already moved ahead.
Then there’s Hi-Octane (HOBC), that’s sold on select petrol stations, which comes with comparatively higher RON of 95.
That’s pretty much all the petrol quality we have in Pakistan.
Not to mention, a lot of petrol is smuggled from Iran and is widely sold across Pakistan. This Irani petrol comes with even lower RON value but is sold across Pakistan on petrol stations of all companies.
Another issue, prevalent in Pakistan is that private pump owners tend to mix jet fuel (which costs half of what petrol does), benzene or kerosene with petrol in order to make more profits. Sadly, the government isn’t too keen on banning pumps selling impure petrol as there’s no check and balance and pump owners are usually given a free hands.
Comparison with International Markets
We would like to mention the different qualities of petrol available in some countries so our readers can compare just how far behind Pakistani market is in this regard. Another point to note is that most countries also stopped selling leaded petrol 2 decades ago, since it is hazardous for health. However, it is still available in Pakistan.
The countries with their respective petrol RON values are listed below:
- Australia: Regular (91), Premium (95/98)
- China: Rural (92), Urban (95), Premium (98)
- Germany: Regular (95), Premium (98), Ultimate (100)
- Hong Kong: 98 RON only
- India*: Regular (91) with some special additives, Premium (93 & 97)
- Iran: Regular (92), Super (95)
- Russia: Regular (92), Premium (95), Most expensive (98)
- Saudi Arabia: Regular (91), Premium (95)
- Sri Lanka: Regular (92), Super (95)
- Turkey: Regular (95), Premium (98)
- UK: Regular (95), Premium (97), Premium Plus (99), Ultimate (102)
- US: Multiple offerings ranging from 90 to 110.
*India manufactures small cars which are specially designed to avoid knocking problems with low RON fuels hence the 91 RON standard.
As you can see above, no country (with officially available RON stats) is offering petrol below the 91 RON standard. Most countries use 92 RON while countries which have a large automotive industry use 95 RON for regular petrol. Some countries offer users the choice to get the type of fuel which is most suitable for their car, depending on the size of the engine.
RON Price Difference
When compared with 87 RON prices, a higher quality 92 RON fuel would cost an additional Rs 2.5 to Rs 3 per liter. A 95 RON upgrade would cost an additional Rs 4 to Rs 6 per liter. These estimates are based on international rates.
How Should Pakistan Calculate the Appropriate RON Value?
RON values are dependent on air density and oxygen quantity in it. A car which requires 98 RON at sea level would work fine on 95 RON when in a mountainous region.
Our government, which is aware of the cars being used in Pakistan, can establish a minimum RON level which would suit most cars. If most people have cars under 1000cc, anything more than 92 RON would suffice, but if there’s a majority of people using cars with a powerful engine, then another standard with a greater RON value should also be made available.
Simply increasing the RON values isn’t the answer. The value has to be appropriately selected depending on the market and the geography of the country.
For a country the size of Pakistan, having at least three or four different fuel types would be a good step.
Pakistan’s Recent Steps in this Direction
Earlier this year, the government asked the oil companies to upgrade their refineries and replace the below standard petrol with a higher one, although with a higher price tag.
The oil companies unanimously rejected the proposal, citing their conditions that they would accept only if they can sell the low quality fuel under the new brand which would help them make up for the losses in technology upgradation
Some industrial players, including Shell, wanted the government to allow selling multiple differential fuels i.e. 87, 92, 95 RON with minor price differentials. The petroleum ministry refused the companies’ proposal citing that consumers won’t know if they are getting 87 or 92 RON due to mistrust.
In our opinion, it was a good proposal because the consumer still doesn’t know if the petrol they are is getting is pure enough or not.
Differential fuel strategy could cater to all types of consumers vehicles, like motorcycles (with lesser RON requirements), small cars, medium-sized cars, etc.
As far as the local oil refineries are concerned, they called the task completely impossible before 2019. They haven’t even started any upgrades yet and it could take some time before they even begin such a project. It would take about 3 years plus million of dollars of investment for the refineries to get the upgrade.
However as far as oil companies are concerned, it would take them around 6 to 8 months to import, market and distribute 92 RON petrol after government approval. Pakistan imports a major share of petrol to fulfill its demand and supply gap and directly importing a higher grade petrol would be a feasible interim option.
It has been reported that Pakistani refineries are at least moving towards Euro-II standard 87 RON petrol. It has more to do with the contents of the petrol and little to do with engine performance. It will improve upon emission standards and will be available in Pakistan by the third quarter this year.
Regular Testing Procedures
Petrol is regularly monitored on most company owned petrol pumps. Oil companies have their own checking vans, which visit pumps occasionally and check the purity and RON value of the fuel.
The vans are equipped with portable RON meters calibrated with a 600cc testing engine, letting the individuals test the fuel quality right then and there.
Company-owned petrol pumps are usually more vigilant in inspecting fuels as compared to private or franchise based petrol pumps.
Government, as in many other cases, isn’t too keen on such testing procedures. Hence, anyone can go ahead and start selling impure petrol without any worries.
Future plans give a clear picture that oil companies and oil refineries are in no real hurry to improve their petrol standards. They want to keep the current standard in order to keep growing their profits.
The government doesn’t want to interfere with the petrol regulations, nor force companies to sell high quality petrol. It does not even want to ban pumps which mix jet fuel with petrol.
It is the government’s job to regulate the oil companies and refineries and maintain standards.
Simply leaving it to them would never solve the issue. It’s not fiscally advantageous enough for private companies’ to make the change. Leaving the industry to regulate itself is naive.
Meanwhile, people owning cars with powerful engines, should opt to buy premium petrol (Hi Octane) all the time. The rest should avoid private or franchise petrol pumps unless you are really sure that the fuel you are getting is really 100 percent petrol.