More than a quarter of UK drivers are completely unaware of the new E10 petrol mix being rolled out across the country. That’s according to a new study by the RAC, which is urging drivers to make sure they know whether they will be able to use the new, eco-friendly blend.

The new E10 fuel is made with 10 percent bioethanol, which is a synthetic fuel made from materials including low-grade grains, sugars and waste wood. The Department for Transport estimates moving from existing ‘E5’ petrol with five percent ethanol content to the new E10 fuel will reduce transport carbon dioxide emissions by 750,000 tonnes per year.

However, there are concerns that drivers of some older vehicles may not be able to use the new fuel, which is being introduced this month. All petrol-powered vehicles built after 2011 will be able to burn E10 fuel, but earlier vehicles may not. The RAC estimates around 600,000 UK vehicles will not be able to use the new fuel, and their owners will have to fill up with more expensive ‘premium’ fuels such as Shell V-Power and BP Ultimate, which will retain their E5 petrol mix.

Man at petrol station filling up

Despite the potential issues with the new petrol mix, the RAC’s study of 1,450 drivers found a quarter had not yet checked whether their car is capable of using the new fuel. The government has introduced a free online checking service, but just a quarter (26 percent) said they had used it.

A further 15 percent said they had found out whether their vehicle was compatible using other means, but 27 percent said they had not checked. And 24 percent of respondents were not even aware the new fuel was being introduced, which suggests more than half the population have no idea whether their car will be able to use E10 petrol safely.

Man refuelling a car at a petrol station

The corrosive properties of bioethanol mean if it’s used in an incompatible engine, it may cause damage to seals, plastics and even metals. These problems are more likely the longer the fuel remains in the system or if E10 fuel is incorrectly used on a regular basis. The AA has advised drivers who use E10 fuel accidentally to simply burn the fuel regardless and fill up with E5 fuel next time, as it takes time for any damage to occur.

That news should be good for those who drive incompatible vehicles and fear mistakenly filling up with E10 fuel. A fifth (20 percent) of the RAC’s respondents who knew their vehicle was incompatible said this was a concern, while 53 percent feared not being able to find a petrol station that sells E5 petrol.

Audi refuelling at petrol station

However, the biggest worry was the cost of E5 petrol, which will effectively become more expensive as it will only be available in premium fuels. According to the RAC, 59 percent of respondents were worried about the cost, which the motoring organisation says can be around 12p per litre.

“E10 petrol has already started appearing on forecourts to replace the old E5 blend and that process will continue at pace in the coming weeks,” said the RAC’s head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes. “But while the vast majority of drivers of petrol cars aren’t affected, a sizeable minority will be and the only way to be sure is to use the official online checker. Those that discover their cars aren’t compatible will unfortunately need to seek out and pay for a hefty premium for E5 super unleaded fuel instead. The cost of doing this could quickly add up for people who need to use their cars regularly, something our research shows all too plainly

“Drivers who will continue to rely on E5 will also need to make sure the filling station they are visiting stocks the fuel in the first place, or risk running out of fuel and having to call on their breakdown provider. We’d also like to remind owners of classic cars that need to be careful not to accidentally top up with E10 and then leave it unused in the tank for long periods, something which can lead to expensive damaged plastics, metals and seals.”