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Greener diesel causing breakdowns?

Most of us know the pressures the motor industry is under to make more environmentally friendly cars. Indeed, there is now a huge focus on emissions from new vehicles. What fewer people are aware of is the same pressure being applied to the fuel companies. This has resulted in EU regulations that force those companies to increase the percentage of biofuels in our diesel.

Most of us know the pressures the motor industry is under to make more environmentally friendly cars. Indeed, there is now a huge focus on emissions from new vehicles. What fewer people are aware of is the same pressure being applied to the fuel companies. This has resulted in EU regulations that force those companies to increase the percentage of biofuels in our diesel. Now motoring groups are becoming concerned about a possible link between this diesel mixture and an increasing incidence of car breakdowns that seem to be caused by a build up of an odd gel-like substance in engine filters.

Breakdown services have been reporting an increasing number of such breakdowns as the winter weather kicks in. During November, the RAC attended 600 breakdowns where the mysterious gel appeared to be the cause. Blocked diesel fuel filters are fairly common and in 2012 the RAC recorded 280 such incidents. The figure, though, has clearly more than doubled in a single year and experts are pointing the finger at the diesel fuel mix. Extrapolating the numbers to non RAC members, it seems as if some 18,500 UK motorists could breakdown because of the problem this winter.

The cause of the gel build up has so far not been identified but it has been most common in the Northwest of England. It only affects diesel engines but is not linked to any single supplier of the fuel. Neither is it associated with a particular brand of car, with all makes both young and old being affected. Diesel producers are legally obliged to include a minimum amount of biodiesel in their fuels and that minimum has increased over the past couple of years from 3.25% to 5%. It is this increase that some experts are blaming for the increasing incidence of this type of gel-induced breakdown.

RAC technical director, David Bizley, commented: "Having diesel fuel filters changed at the right service intervals is clearly important because a failure to do so can lead to starving the engine of fuel, but from the number of breakdowns we have attended this cannot be the primary cause. Neither the fuel producers, nor retailers, nor the motor manufacturers saw this problem coming."

There appears to be no correlation between the problem and whether the fuel is bought in supermarket forecourts or other suppliers but the geographical spread of the problem may provide a clue. This would suggest that fuel from certain refineries may be slightly different in composition, leading to the gel formation that causes the problem.

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