Our guide to AdBlue

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AdBlue and diesel fuel caps

Most businesses in the UK will have diesel vehicles in their fleets, particularly if they use HGVs, so it’s important to ensure that they meet the latest Euro 6 exhaust emission regulations. To help reduce their toxic emissions, new diesel vehicles are usually fitted with an exhaust treatment system that uses AdBlue technology.

AdBlue has been used in mainstream passenger cars since 2014, in line with the introduction of the Euro 6 emissions standards. HGVs had been using AdBlue to help limit their emissions for more than a decade before this legislation was announced, so drivers should have experience using this technology. However, there is still some confusion about when and how AdBlue should be used.

In this guide, we’ll explore how AdBlue can benefit your vehicle and highlight some of the current challenges that are threatening its use in the future.

What is AdBlue?

AdBlue is an exhaust fluid, not a fuel additive, and is made from a urea and water solution. It’s stored in a separate container from your fuel and can easily be topped up via a filler cap which will be located next to your fuel filler, in the boot, or under the bonnet, depending on your vehicle. If you’re unsure about how to top up your vehicle’s AdBlue then check your owner’s manual which should contain full instructions on how to access the tank. If your vehicle uses AdBlue then you’ll probably need to top it up at least once between services to keep it running smoothly.

How does AdBlue work?

Small quantities of AdBlue are injected into the exhaust gasses from a separate tank in your vehicle. This creates a chemical reaction, removing the harmful nitrogen-oxide emissions (NOx) and converting them into harmless water and nitrogen.

How long does AdBlue last?

The longevity of AdBlue is dependent on a variety of factors, including vehicle type, average mileage and how economically you drive. Average consumption is around a litre of AdBlue every 600 miles, however, your tank size has a large impact on how long AdBlue lasts, so you may need to refill anywhere between 3,000 and 12,000 miles.

What happens if my vehicle runs out of AdBlue?

Your vehicle will show a series of warning messages on the dashboard to alert you that the level of AdBlue is running low. This usually appears when the remaining range is around 1,500 miles, giving you plenty of time to refill your vehicle with AdBlue.

If your vehicle runs out of AdBlue whilst you’re driving, then the power and performance of your engine will be reduced to limit its emissions. This will limit your speed and can sometimes even restrict your access to functions such as air conditioning and heated seats. When you stop driving your vehicle, then your engine will not turn back on until you’ve refilled the AdBlue tank. It’s therefore important that you monitor your AdBlue level and ensure that it’s topped up when needed to prevent breakdowns, which can be time-consuming and costly.

Where can I buy AdBlue?

AdBlue is widely available to purchase from petrol stations, motor accessory shops, independent garages, online retailers, and some supermarkets. It’s worth evaluating your options in advance as the cost of AdBlue can vary considerably depending on where it’s bought from. When refilling the AdBlue tank yourself, avoid getting it on the paintwork of your vehicle as it will cause damage, and make sure to wash your hands after filling to avoid irritation to the skin.

AdBlue dos and don’ts

All modern diesel vehicles need AdBlue as they’re unable to run without it, so it’s important that drivers have a full understanding of how to use it safely and know what should be avoided.

The dos:

  • Use liquid-tight gloves when refilling your vehicle.
  • Protect AdBlue against any contamination from materials, such as fuel, oil, water, dust, dirt, and metals by only using sealed equipment.
  • Wash your hands and arms after refilling.
  • Top up your AdBlue once the warning light has come on.
  • Always refill the AdBlue tank straight from the container from which the AdBlue was supplied.

The don’ts:

  • Store product above 25° and in direct sunlight.
  • Use AdBlue as a diesel additive, so never add AdBlue directly into the fuel tank.
  • Purchase AdBlue from a supplier that is not a registered licensee of the VDA.
  • Fill your AdBlue tank with any other fluid than AdBlue.
  • Start the engine or move your vehicle if you have accidentally put diesel in the AdBlue tank.

The price of AdBlue is rising as supply falls

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been one factor contributing to the substantial increase in fuel costs during 2022. The invasion has also pushed up natural gas prices which is used to produce urea - a key component of Ad Blue. As a result of the price increases, production has been decreased and supply constrained causing a potential shortage across Europe. Without AdBlue, most HGVs would be unable to run, reducing the number of products that can be delivered and this would lead to further shortages for consumers. In addition, the UK has no Urea production plants and is completely reliant on imports to meet demand, so the shortages across Europe are having a significant impact on the availability of AdBlue for drivers.

Adopting hypermiling techniques and planning journeys in advance to optimise AdBlue and fuel consumption will become increasingly important, but businesses may consider switching to greener alternative fuels for their fleets, such as EV and hydrogen, as diesel vehicles may become unusable.

Businesses are calling on the Government to draw up a contingency plan and consider building up AdBlue reserves in preparation for a potential shortage. There’s also a need for more aid to be provided to businesses that are struggling with increased costs to ensure that they can keep their vehicles on the road. It’s thought that once the energy crisis has subsided then AdBlue costs will begin to drop again, however, action is needed now to protect businesses that are facing a long, daunting winter.

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Karl Gurney
Head of Sales

Karl has over 14 years of experience in the fuel card industry and has a wealth of knowledge around the servicing and maintenance of fleet vehicles. Outside of work, Karl coaches a junior football team and enjoys spending time with his wife and 2 sons.