The mixture known as gasoline, when used in high compression internal combustion engines, has a tendency to ignite early (pre-ignition or detonation) causing a damaging "engine knocking" (also called "pinging" or "pinking") noise. Early research into this effect was led by A.H. Gibson and Harry Ricardo in England and Thomas Midgley and Thomas Boyd in the United States. The discovery that lead additives modified this behavior led to the widespread adoption of the practice in the 1920s and therefore more powerful higher compression engines. The most popular additive was tetra-ethyl lead. However, with the discovery of the environmental and health damage caused by the lead, and the incompatibility of lead with catalytic converters found on virtually all US automobiles since 1975, this practice began to wane in the 1980s. Most countries are phasing out leaded fuel; different additives have replaced the lead compounds. The most popular additives include aromatic hydrocarbons, ethers and alcohol (usually ethanol or methanol).
The typical antiknock agents in use are:
A side effect of the lead additives was protection of the valve seats from erosion. Many classic cars' engines have needed modification to use lead-free fuels since leaded fuels became unavailable. However, "Lead substitute" products are also produced and can sometimes be found at auto parts stores.
Gasoline, as delivered at the pump, also contains additives to reduce internal engine carbon buildups, improve combustion, and to allow easier starting in cold climates.
In some parts of South America, Asia and the Middle East, leaded gasoline is still in use. Leaded gasoline was phased out in sub-Saharan Africa with effect from 1 January, 2006. A growing number of countries have drawn up plans to ban leaded gasoline in the near future.
To avoid deposits of lead inside the engine, lead scavengers are added to the gasoline together with tetra-ethyl lead. The most common ones are:
US Federal sources state that MMT is suspected to be a powerful neurotoxin and respiratory toxin, and a large Canadian study concluded that MMT impairs the effectiveness of automobile emission controls and increases pollution from motor vehicles.