When it comes to filling up your car with juice, it's important to get things right. A gasoline car will choke on diesel, and the opposite combination is ripe for trouble, too. But if you have a low-end car with a very basic engine, you can potentially run it on some very low-rent flammable fluids indeed.
The experiment comes to us from the YouTube channel Garbage Time. In their most recent video, the gang tries to run a Fiat 126 on "hardware store fuel." Sold in Australia as the FSM Niki, the two-door hatch originally came with a tiny 0.65-liter two-cylinder gasoline engine good for 24 horsepower. The experiment aimed to see if the humble Italian people's car would run on denatured ethanol, kerosene, or camp fuel.
To give the unconventional fuels a fair shot, the engine was first started and warmed up on standard gas. The Fiat was then rigged up to sip from a lawnmower fuel tank filled with kerosene. With a miserable octane rating of approximately 30, kerosene is a terrible fuel likely to cause detonation in virtually any gas engine. It's also not very volatile, which can make proper ignition harder.
Amazingly, the simple carbureted engine was able to keep running on kerosene, albeit with significant pinging. Due to the low octane rating, however, it did cause the engine to run on after the ignition was switched off. That's largely because the kerosene was igniting due to compression in the cylinder, rather than by the action of the spark plug. Only a full 14 seconds after switch-off did the engine sputter to a stop. The warm engine was even able to restart on kerosene alone.
Unsurprisingly, the engine ran pretty well on denatured ethanol. Most gasoline engines can run on ethanol in various fractions, so it's no surprise the Fiat had little trouble with methylated spirits, as it's known Down Under. As a fuel, its properties are close enough to petrol in many respects, so you'd expect it to work here.
Shellite, commonly sold as lighter fluid or camp fuel in the U.S., was more of a wildcard. With an octane rating of approximately 50, it held some promise. Overall, the engine ran poorly, but it did keep turning over nonetheless. It's not dissimilar from common gasoline in its chemical makeup, but it's refined in a way that makes it far more suitable for camp stoves than internal combustion engines.
Cold starts were another matter entirely. Starting on kerosene was impossible, thanks to its low flash point making it reluctant to burn. The Fiat got close, however, and may have lucked out on a hot summer day. A heat gun blown directly into the engine's intake was enough to make the difference, however, with the engine shortly springing into life on the ugly blue fuel. While it goes untested, the much lower flashpoint of shellite and denatured ethanol would make them far better candidates for cold-start performance.
In any case, running on shellite or kerosene long term will only net engine damage thanks to detonation in the combustion chamber. And, while these tests were done while stationary, it's likely the Fiat would struggle to get around at speed on such poor fuel. Plus, if you're actually buying these fluids from a hardware store, they're usually way more expensive than just buying a few liters of gas.
The denatured ethanol would be a far better emergency fuel choice, especially if the carburetor was jetted to suit. It also bears noting that fuel-injected cars, or anything in a higher state of tune, would likely be far less tolerant of such oddball fuel choices. A crappy old Fiat engine from the 20th century is about the right choice for this experiment.
In any case, when the inevitable zombie apocalypse finally hits, you now know exactly which cans to steal from the hardware store to keep your engine running.
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