MSE News

New greener petrol to be introduced in Northern Ireland by 1 November – but not all vehicles are compatible and it could push up costs

A new, greener type of unleaded petrol called E10 is being rolled out across forecourts in Northern Ireland by Tuesday 1 November, following its introduction across England, Scotland and Wales last year. But around 5% of cars, mainly older ones, aren't compatible with it, so will need to use pricier fuel. Plus, even if your vehicle can take it, you may have to fill up more often because it's less efficient.

The switch to E10 petrol was delayed in Northern Ireland because the Northern Ireland Protocol meant the European Commission had to be notified of the changes to fuel regulations.

We've a full Q&A on what's happening and how it impacts motorists below. For tips on how to cut petrol costs and improve fuel efficiency, check out our Cheap petrol and diesel guide.

What type of unleaded petrol is sold in forecourts now, and how is it changing?

There are currently two main types of unleaded sold in Northern Ireland:

  • E5 (95 octane) – this will disappear from most forecourts by 1 November. This is the standard unleaded petrol sold, though it's sometimes confusingly referred to as 'premium'.

    It has already been scrapped in most places in England, Scotland and Wales as it's not considered green enough. It contains up to 5% of a substance called 'renewable ethanol' – made from materials such as grains, sugars and waste wood. But the Government wants to increase the concentration of this in petrol (which is happening with E10) as it means less fossil fuels are used in production.

  • E5 Super (97+ octane) – this is staying put after 1 November. Despite E5 sometimes being referred to as 'premium', E5 Super is actually the premium version. It also contains up to 5% renewable ethanol, but is being allowed to stay as an alternative for vehicles that aren't compatible with the new E10 fuel. However, it's pricier than other versions.

But a big change will come in by 1 November when the majority of forecourts in Northern Ireland will have to sell the following unleaded fuel instead of E5 (many forecourts have started the switch already):

  • E10 (95 octane) – this will replace E5 from 1 November. It will become the standard unleaded petrol in Northern Ireland – as it has already in the rest of the UK. E10 contains up to 10% renewable ethanol. But it's not compatible with some older vehicles, and while it won't cost more than standard E5, it's less efficient, so you'll probably need to fill up more often.

Some older vehicles (including around 5% of petrol cars) aren't compatible with new E10 petrol – what are the consequences and how can I check mine?

If you can't use E10, you'll need to use the premium E5 Super petrol. Currently this costs 179p/litre on average – 13p/litre more than both E5 and E10 standard unleaded, according to the latest figures from motoring firm the RAC. 

You can use the free checker on the website to check if your car, van, motorbike or moped is compatible – though note that many manufacturers of classic cars aren't listed in the tool, so you may need to contact the manufacturer or retailer directly to ask.

The Government warns the following types of vehicles, in particular, may be incompatible with E10:

  • Classic cars
  • Some models from the first few years of the millennium
  • Many mopeds, particularly those with an engine size of 50cc or under

If I can use E10, by how much will my fuel bills go up by?

The average price per litre of E10 is expected to be the same as it is for E5; currently 166p/litre on average, according to the RAC. But the Government says E10 is around 1% less fuel-efficient, which means motorists may have to fill up more often. 

Based on current petrol prices, this could add around £22 a year to bills (for those filling up an average family car twice a month).

Is the change coming in across all forecourts?

You'll see E10 in most forecourts in Northern Ireland from November, although there are some exceptions as rural, remote or very small filling stations are able to continue to sell standard E5 where there's limited supply of the alternative E5 Super. As of September 2021, E10 is already standard across most forecourts in England, Scotland and Wales.

What happens if I accidentally fill up with the wrong fuel?

If you fill up with E10 in a non-compatible motor as a one-off, the Government says your vehicle probably won't suffer engine damage, and you won't need to drain the tank.

But it has warned that prolonged use of E10 in a non-compatible vehicle could damage it over time. According to the RAC, the extra ethanol can corrode certain metal parts and cause problems with other materials used for seals and gaskets within the fuel system.

My lawnmower runs on unleaded petrol, is that affected?

The Government's warned that some common garden equipment, such as petrol-powered lawnmowers, may also be incompatible with E10. You can't put these details into the Government's tool, so you'll need to check the manual for your equipment or ask the manufacturer or retailer.

We previously checked with several major lawnmower manufacturers and John Deere told us all of its equipment going back as far as the 1980s IS compatible with E10, while Hayter told us its latest equipment can also run on the new fuel – though it's unclear if the same is true for its older machinery, so it's best to check.

Are diesel vehicles impacted?

No, nothing is changing with diesel. Diesel already contains up to 7% of a renewable substance called 'biodiesel', which all diesel cars are compatible with.

What more does the Government say?

It estimates that the use of E10 across the UK could cut transport CO2 emissions by 750,000 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road.

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