Gas Prices AAAs Fuel Gauge Report February 4 2013

What is the Difference between Summer- and Winter-Blend Gasoline?

Every spring gas prices seem to skyrocket to the highest prices of the year. Why does this happen? In explanation, we hear the experts say that many of the refineries are “down for maintenance while transitioning from winter-blend to summer-blend gasoline,” but what does this mean?

The difference between summer- and winter-blend gasoline involves the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of the fuel. RVP is a measure of how easily the fuel evaporates at a given temperature. The more volatile a gasoline (higher RVP), the easier it evaporates.

Winter-blend fuel has a higher RVP because the fuel must be able to evaporate at low temperatures for the engine to operate properly, especially when the engine is cold. If the RVP is too low on a frigid day, the vehicle will be hard to start and once started, will run rough.

Summer-blend gasoline has a lower RVP to prevent excessive evaporation when outside temperatures rise. Reducing the volatility of summer gas decreases emissions that can contribute to unhealthy ozone and smog levels. A lower RVP also helps prevent drivability problems such as vapor lock on hot days, especially in older vehicles.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says conventional summer-blend gasoline contains 1.7 percent more energy than winter-blend gas, which is one reason why gas mileage is slightly better in the summer. However, the summer-blend is also more expensive to produce, and that cost is passed on to the motorist.

The switch between the two fuels happens twice a year, once in the fall (to winter-blend) and again in the spring (to summer-blend). The changeover requires significant work at refineries, so oil companies schedule their maintenance for those times when they will already be “down” for the blend switches.

As a consumer, the main thing to understand is that there are real reasons for the switch from winter- to summer-blend fuel, even if it results in some pain at the pump.

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