Gourmet Gasoline? Not Quite

The Consumer Council collected 16 samples of fuel from eight gas stations from the four largest fuel companies in Israel.

There is no real difference between 95-octane fuel and 96-octane fuel in some cases, says the Israel Consumer Council. Or rather, there is one - price. The finer fuel costs as much as a shekel more per liter at gas stations.

The Consumer Council collected 16 samples of fuel from eight gas stations in Ashdod and Haifa, from the four largest fuel companies in Israel: Paz, Delek, Sonol and Dor Alon. The samples were then tested at a laboratory. In four of the 16 samples deviations and significant discrepancies were found between the supposed octane level and the actual one, says the watchdog.

"Octane" is a rating system. What it measures is the resistance of the gasoline to detonation in spark-ignition internal combustion engines. The more powerful the engine, as a rule of thumb, the higher the required octane in its fuel. Feeding high-octane fuel to a lower-performance engine won't do a thing for it: Its compression ratio is capped by design, not the fuel.

But if gas stations sell two sorts of fuel, 95- and 96-octane, for different prices, surely there should be a difference between them. Yet there isn't, not always at least.

For example, in one case a 95-octane gasoline sample was found to be 96.4 octane. In another, 95 octane was found to be 96.3. One sample of 96 octane turned out to be 94.8. Other gasoline samples also had discrepancies between the advertised level and the actual ones.

Under the standard, a deviation of 0.7 octane is legitimate. Therefore, it is acceptable for 96-octane fuel to actually be 95.4.

However, based on its findings, the Consumer Council is worried. "It is possible that significant damage is being caused to the general public," it says: People are buying 95-octane fuel for the price of 96 octane, which isn't subject to price controls. The difference can add up to vast sums, and the main victims are owners of 15-year-old cars, the watchdog adds.

Earlier this year, in February, the government stopped controlling the price of 96-octane gas in order to encourage the use of more environmentally-friendly fuels such as 95 octane.

Chen Bar-Yosef, managing director of the National Infrastructure Ministry's Fuel Authority, says the reason supervision was removed is to make people aware that 96 octane isn't better for their car. They're paying more money and damaging the environment, he says. "The public must understand that we're talking about a difference of only one octane."

Anyway, when the state stopped overseeing the price of 96 octane, the gas retailers raised their prices. Now there's a difference of up to a shekel between 95 octane and 96 octane.

Some car owners have no choice about octane levels. About 40 car models must use 96 octane or higher according to manufacturer's instructions, so their drivers must pay the higher prices. This applies mainly to older models, most of them from the 1980s.

Most Israeli consumers use 95 octane, and even before supervision was removed, 96-octane gas represented only a small percentage of overall fuel consumption. According to May figures, 9,000 tons of 96-octane gas were consumed, compared to 250,000 tons of 95 octane.

Propelled into action by these findings, the Consumer Council has asked the Infrastructure Ministry and the Fuel Authority to test the fuels being sold to the public, and stop the sale of 96-octane gas.

The Transportation Ministry says it's the Infrastructure Ministry's call. "We don't care whether the public will be able to purchase 98-octane gas or 96-octane gas, as long as those who need gas with a level higher than 95 octane will be able to purchase it," a source in the Transportation Ministry said.

The issue has reached the Knesset. Orit Noked, deputy minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, smells deception. Retailers are raking in millions of shekels at the expense of consumers, she said: "This is especially serious in light of the fact that most of the profit is being made at the expense of weaker consumers who own old vehicles."