What is the Difference Between Oil and Gasoline?

Jessica Hobby

With continuous information in the media about rising or falling oil prices, fuel and gasoline prices, and the price per barrel of crude oil, it can sometimes be confusing to understand the difference between oil and gasoline. To help further the confusion, both are surrounded by many related terms that are sometimes used incorrectly. Understanding the individual properties of oil and gas and how they relate to one another will make it easier to understand the difference between them.

Gasoline is produced from crude oil at refineries around the world.
Gasoline is produced from crude oil at refineries around the world.

When oil is referred to in the company of gasoline, crude oil is specifically what is intended. Crude or unrefined oil is also called petroleum. Petroleum is a naturally occurring liquid fossil fuel made up of multiple hydrocarbons and other organic compounds that can be found in rock formations of the Earth’s surface. Crude oil isn’t useful until it is refined into different products. Oil is extracted from the ground with wells and sent to a refinery where the hydrocarbons are separated during distillation and other chemical processes. After the oil is distilled, it is used to make a variety of petroleum derivatives with fuel derivatives being the most common.

A pool of crude, unrefined oil.
A pool of crude, unrefined oil.

The major difference between oil and gasoline is the fact that gasoline is a fuel derivative of oil. Its name is shortened to “gas” in the United States and called “petrol,” which is shortened from “petroleum spirits,” in other places around the world. Other fuel derivatives of oil are ethane, diesel fuel, jet fuel, kerosene, and natural gas. In addition to fuels, refined oil is also used to make olefins, lubricants, wax, sulfur or sulfuric acid, tar, asphalt, and many other products.

Gasoline derived from crude oil is used as fuel for internal combustion engines.
Gasoline derived from crude oil is used as fuel for internal combustion engines.

More specifically, gasoline is a liquid petroleum derivative that is primarily used as fuel in internal combustion engines. It is produced in oil refineries; however, this kind of virgin gas does not meet the specifications for modern engines. Generally speaking, today’s gasoline is made of a mixture of three different derivatives: paraffin, napthenes, and olefins. The ratios of the mixture depend on the oil refinery doing the processing, the crude oil being used and the octane rating of the gasoline that is to be produced, which is the measure of resistance to normal combustion by gasoline.

Gasoline is made from crude oil.
Gasoline is made from crude oil.

Drilling and extracting crude oil from the ground, coupled with burning oil and its derivatives, have created great social concerns surrounding the environment. One of the largest concerns is oil’s contribution to global warming. When oil and its derivatives, such as gasoline, are burned, carbon dioxide is released, which is believed to contribute to global warming.

A pumpjack oil well.
A pumpjack oil well.
Gasoline is refined from light oils that have been extracted from underground wells.
Gasoline is refined from light oils that have been extracted from underground wells.
Crude oil is separated into products like gasoline and kerosene in cracking towers at oil refineries.
Crude oil is separated into products like gasoline and kerosene in cracking towers at oil refineries.
Motor oil is used to keep an auto's engine lubricated.
Motor oil is used to keep an auto's engine lubricated.
Gasoline is a fuel derivative of oil, while oil is the base ingredient used in products including gasoline.
Gasoline is a fuel derivative of oil, while oil is the base ingredient used in products including gasoline.
Gasoline may be stored in a can for emergencies.
Gasoline may be stored in a can for emergencies.
Refined oil is used to make asphalt.
Refined oil is used to make asphalt.

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Discussion Comments

sissyjlm

Be aware that those little red flashing lights, often referred to as "dummy lights," usually don't come in until the damage has been done. Do not wait for the light to check your engine oil, it should be checked regularly when you get gas.

Batsheva

Yeah I then proofread my silly theory book (!) and then realized there was a thing called engine oil for lubrification. So if on the dashboard of a car, I see a little oil container flashing red, that means low in engine oil doesn't it? I suppose "low in fuel" is signified to me in a different way? Thanks for the reply anyway!

sissyjlm

I can't think of a situation, when speaking of a car, that oil and fuel mean the same thing. Fuel could refer to gasoline or diesel..whatever "fuels" the engine. And yes..oil for lubrication. -Jessica

Batsheva

This may sound like a really stupid question, but I know very little about cars. I am learning for my Theory Driving License at the moment and sometimes my book refers to oil, and sometimes it refers to fuel. They mean the same thing, don't they? I was under the impression a car needed fuel and maybe also another type of oil to lubricate the mechanism or whatever... I know, probably a stupid question but I do wonder. Thanks for replying!

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