16 June 2015

Filling Up on Confusion at the Gas Station

Whether you have a deep personal connection to your vehicle or consider it just transportation, proper care and feeding is a smart policy. For the most part, common sense will serve as a reasonable guide in making those decisions.

Not so when it comes to fuel selection. Choosing the right octane grade involves weighing performance against cost, for example, and questions over gasoline blended with ethanol have persisted for years. While gasoline cut with ethanol can offer higher octane ratings and lower tailpipe emissions, it also carries the reputation for damaging fuel systems and other components.

American motorists began burning E10 in the late 1970s. By 2005 it had become the most commonly available blend. Today, in many areas, it’s hard to find fuel that doesn’t contain at least 10 percent ethanol. For most users, especially drivers of late-model cars, that’s not a problem, though owners of boats and chain saws have complained loudly.

The situation got more confusing in 2010, when the Environmental Protection Agency granted a waiver allowing use of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, or E15, for use in model year 2007 and newer light-duty motor vehicles. In 2011 the waiver was expanded to include vehicles produced since 2001. The Renewable Fuels Association, an advocacy group, applauded the decision.

Many car companies said, “Not so fast.” And the EPA specifically excluded all motorcycles, off-road and heavy-duty vehicles, and outdoor power equipment.

So what’s best for your car? Although the EPA approved to E15 blends, some automakers are still wary of it, even for 2015 models. What’s more, no automaker recommends using E15 in 2001-6 vehicles. Yet the warning sticker on the filling station’s E15 pump will tell you it’s OK use it in 2001 and newer passenger vehicles or flex-fuel vehicles, which are engineered to burn up to 85 percent ethanol.

GM has approved E15 for vehicles produced since 2012, except 2015 Chevrolet City Express, and Ford has been on board since 2013, but Chrysler doesn’t approve it for any vehicles. Toyota approved E15 for all new models for the first time this year, as did Honda.

A BMW spokesman, Thomas Plucinsky, said in a phone interview that E15 is not recommended for any of the automaker’s products. According to Mark Green’s Energy Tomorrow blog, Volvo, Subaru, Nissan and Mazda also say no to E15. For any car built after 2012, check your owner’s manual, and if E15 isn’t recommended, stay away. For any car built before 2012, stick with E10.

Why? Simply because ethanol can corrode metal parts and damage some synthetic parts. Some recent cars are made without ethanol-resistant materials.

How about that 50-year-old classic? You certainly shouldn’t fill up on E15 if your engine and fuel system are original equipment or OE replacements. Blends of E10 are nearly unavoidable, though, and can cause some deterioration and corrosion over the long haul.

Fortunately, a problem like a sticking float valve in the carburetor or a clogged fuel filter will make itself known in terms of performance problems. A 2009 test of six older automobile fuel systems that Kettering University performed for Hagerty found little damage beyond discoloration.

43 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Conrad Baker Bettendorf, Ia June 17, 2015 at 16:04
    pure-gas.org (http://pure-gas.org) Has listing by state of stations with Ethanol free gas
  • 2
    Andrew Crouch Omaha, ne June 17, 2015 at 16:18
    I've found over the years in my 1979 f150 400 4x4 I ran ethanol mixes unless I was pulling a loaded car trailer, then ole blue gets 91. My 1972 Ford Gran Torino manual states minimum 91 octane and I go out of my way to find a station without ethanol. However in Nebraska it's nearly unavoidable. I've seen no major issues in oem ford Holley carbs on driven used vehicles. Cars that have sat for years, we always change fuel lines out of safety but I've been using Parker pushlok hose with lining to resist gasohol damage. Basic rule I keep is soft rubber if not made for ethanol change it ever 3 or so years. A few bucks vs a potential fire is worth the investment.
  • 3
    dennis tomlinson Owosso michigan June 17, 2015 at 16:47
    Aviation fuel is a source of pure gasoline. FAA doesn't allow ethanol. A little more costly but good for chainsaws older auto's, and etc. Most airports allow purchase especially small ones. They love to sell 5 buck aviation fuel.
  • 4
    Nick Spokane WA June 17, 2015 at 16:58
    Not so fast..not so easy..there is more..Ethanol is not stable for very long..maybe 30 days, then it turns to gook, but new ethanol is a strong solvent, then partially loosens the good, and it clogs the fuel system. Also, for many classics with older metallurgy ethanol does EAT away the metal. The test cars must have been later models. And it eats older rubber in the fuel lines. There is a lot more to report than what you stated. Classic owners should stay away from ethanol fuels and if used must use an ethanol treatment, and should try to use up the fuel within 30 days.
  • 5
    Roger Sitterly Des Moines, Iowa June 17, 2015 at 17:08
    The single biggest risk faced at any station dispensing any grade of ethanol-blended gasoline is that NO official government agency anywhere is testing the resulting blend to verify that it contains no more than the stated percentage of ethanol. The stuff apparently is added at local distribution terminals, and you have to implicitly trust their blending process. If they blow it, you may be getting E-35 instead of E-10. I know of at least one instance where a new car in Texas, repeatedly filled with "E-10" from a major refiner, suffered two engine failures within a year - after the second one the dealer tested the contents of the tank and discovered the "E-10" was really nearly 25% ethanol.
  • 6
    David Conlin North Michigan June 17, 2015 at 17:34
    Not a very good article. Carburation vs injection Treating fuel Recreation fuel. All part of the discussion.
  • 7
    Albert Miami June 17, 2015 at 17:51
    Owning a 1967 Porsche and reading this is painful. This (and many, many other classics foreign or domestic) are NOT meant to run on this stuff. It may be great for new vehicles but it can kill others. A true shame.
  • 8
    James Dallas,Tx June 17, 2015 at 18:08
    I tried E85 in my 2013 F150 because of the price. My gas mileage dropped from around 16 average to around 12. I calculated the difference and found the price per mile is too close to use E85 again.
  • 9
    HOWARD GERBER Baltimore, Md. June 17, 2015 at 18:17
    I have a 1989 Jaguar XJS 12 cylinder and a 1995 Mercedes S 500. I have had to replace the gas tanks on both cars because of leaks caused by ethanol gas. I am now putting marine stabilizer in my cars, but what else can I do ? I also have a 1951 Harley that sat for a while and had the insides of the carburetor turn bright green as a result of Ethanol gas. I may have found a source for non ethanol gas, but if not, again can someone tell me the best way to avoid damage to this bike also from this miserable gas.
  • 10
    Pete Saint Leonard, Md June 17, 2015 at 18:34
    E10 gasoline is a real problem, it causes the price to rise not only in fuel but also in food. E10 has less power than regular gas causing poorer milage. I am retired now but spent many years in the power equipment trade, when E10 arrived on the scene the biggest part of my repair business was fuel related. I stumbled accross a product called ETHANOL SHIELD by a company called B3C. It was like the ethanol was gone. My classic auto gets it with every fill-up
  • 11
    Gary R. Miller Pleasantville Iowa 50225 June 17, 2015 at 19:05
    Nothing said here about "regular unleaded"--which contains no ethanol at all, and does afford the same octane rating as the 10% ethanol. I use the "regular unleaded" in my "65 Mustang-289"--have had no problems. Do you foresee problems that are going to be caused??
  • 12
    Harry Atlanta, GA June 17, 2015 at 19:16
    use 100 low lead aviation fuel, if you don't have a catalytic converter.
  • 13
    Rascar Wilmington, NC June 17, 2015 at 19:19
    Too bad you did not mention the availability of totally non-ethanol gasoline. It is readily available here in NC and many other states. Locations are vailable on Google. I use Non-ethanol regular in my 1966 Mustang with teriffic performance results.
  • 14
    Bob Murphy Independence, MO June 17, 2015 at 19:32
    Even for my daily-drivers, I tend to seek 'old-lady' specials, so my newest car is from 1996. A Missouri governor stuck us with ethanol a few years back, and I have to replace fuel pumps every two years or less, which never happened with 'real' gasoline. I seek out 1 pump in the metro area I know of for 'antique vehicle' gasoline on my hobby cars. There would be a lot less pollution if we taxed Chinese goods manufactured with zero environmental standards than the pursuit of ethanol as a tailpipe-emissions solution. Pollution is truly global! -RDM
  • 15
    Jay Minnesota June 17, 2015 at 19:37
    I have a 2002 Chevy Camaro, and after about 90,000 miles, my catalytic converter was SHOT. I blame E10 for this expensive failure ($700 repair, including damage to the ignition system due to overheating).
  • 16
    Ed Drapela Oak Ridge, Tennessee June 17, 2015 at 19:44
    Come to Tennessee; We are lucky enough to have several stations in our area that sell 100% gasoline without a drop of ethanol. Sure saves on carb rebuilds, sticky fuel pumps and corrosion in the tank.
  • 17
    Don Utah June 17, 2015 at 19:45
    I have never used ethanol fuels in any of my engines, small or large. I've always been able to find at least one station selling pure gasoline. I refuse to let the government ruin any of my engines. They ruin enough other things.
  • 18
    bigboy Southwest June 17, 2015 at 19:57
    Is there any online guide to service stations that offer real, 100% gasoline? Like Jay Leno and many classic car collectors, many of us would sure appreciate knowing and patronizing those places that can help us out with gas for our bikes, small engines, and so forth.
  • 19
    Jack Weiszer Portage, Michigan June 17, 2015 at 19:57
    So what am I supposed to burn in the 1960 Corvette I am restoring? Ground-up congressmen?
  • 20
    jerry Florida June 17, 2015 at 20:22
    Recently had a problem with a 4 barrel holly. Mainly a stuck secondary needle. But both bowels were filled with an ugly reddish mix of water and the E10.
  • 21
    Robert Canada June 17, 2015 at 21:57
    While both ethanol and gasoline deliver the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per gallon consumed, when compared on a per mile driven basis, burning ethanol actually produces 54% more CO2 as global warming pollutant than gasoline due to the fact that ethanol has lower fuel efficiency. Ethanol is the biggest lie perpetrated on a well-meaning unsuspecting public. Politically, the ethanol mandate is nothing but an example of successful lobbying on behalf of the agricultural industry.
  • 22
    Frank Souza Cumberland, R.I. June 17, 2015 at 23:21
    Comments about what blend we should use in our cars are moot. Here in the northeast, we don't have choices. We can only buy the one type that the stations sell.
  • 23
    Bob Smith Corvallis, OR June 17, 2015 at 23:35
    I just got a '36 Ford with a flathead V8. We have a gas station nearby that sells 92 octane non-ethanol gas. I'm wondering if I need to add a lead additive also?
  • 24
    James Berglof Lake Elmo, MN. June 18, 2015 at 02:34
    In my 69 Mustang and all my lawn equipmnent I switch to totally non-ethanol fuel. Cost about a dollar more a gallon, but I have'nt had to rebuild any carburater in the 4 years since I switched. Jim.
  • 25
    Marsha West Albuquerque June 18, 2015 at 03:00
    What about methanol? My Corvette repair specialist here says that methanol is coming and that the only salvation for my 1971 Stingray (454 cu in) is to install fuel injection, which will be extremely pricey. Are we owners of classic muscle cars doomed to spend thousands of dollars converting to fuel injection just so we can drive our treasures?
  • 26
    Smokestack Florida June 18, 2015 at 07:43
    "...gasoline cut with ethanol can offer higher octane ratings..." Who writes this drivel? Worse, what editor allows lies like this one to be printed?
  • 27
    Bruce Green Florida June 18, 2015 at 07:47
    What years were the six "older" vehicles? Over what period of time was the test performed? My experience has not been the same as Kettering.
  • 28
    Eric Florida June 18, 2015 at 08:53
    Ethanol in gas is bad news for older cars and boats. Since Florida forced it on us in the early 2000's, I have had to rebuild 2 carburetors (in 2 different cars) a total of 5 times and have gone through 3 fuel pumps. In addition, I also had to rebuild the carburetor on a boat 3 times. A couple of years ago Florida finally allowed the sale of "recreational" fuel, known as Rec90. Since then, I haven't had any more problems.
  • 29
    Bstronger CT June 18, 2015 at 08:55
    Does fuel stabilizer help reduce ethanol problems?
  • 30
    Bob Cercena Maine June 18, 2015 at 08:59
    We didn't know how good we had it until they heaped ethanol on us! It will cause corrosion on anything that sits for a while. It's so bad here on equipment and old cars that you only drive in frequently that we have to clean carbs, floats and drain anything that sits. As for gas mileage most of us here are seeing 3 miles less per gallon! Kittering University should come to the western mountains of Maine and bring some outboard motors and chain saws with them !
  • 31
    Pete Pianka Mn June 18, 2015 at 09:02
    leaves a white powder residue in carburetors if left over winter storage requiring cleaning and re-kiting along with needle and seat replacement no more 10% priced
  • 32
    Frank Masachusetts June 18, 2015 at 09:13
    Did you know ethanol ATTRACTS moisture! Over time hi levels of water build up in fuel systems using ethanol gasoline. Fuel that sits around is highly prone to this. Rubber fuel lines, and diaphrams are detroyed by any amount of ethanol in fuel. It makes them permantly brittle when the fuel dries away, and gummy when the fuel is present. It slowly disolves any rubber product not designed for ethanol. It will rapidly destroy excellorator pumps and needle/seats in carburetors. The moisture it attracts causes any mild steel it gets in contact with to form rust, which causes the discoloration found in the fuel. This brown rusty sludge coats everything in the sytem. It also decreases fuel mileage because ethanol has a much lower A/F ratio requirement than gasoline. Ethanol blended fuels will keep you busy fixing what ever it gets used in.
  • 33
    Mark Thistel Baltimore MD June 18, 2015 at 09:29
    So...what are we supposed to be doing? Are there supplements/additives that can address this problem?
  • 34
    Rooster Nashville, tn. June 18, 2015 at 09:40
    I have to wonder if the ethanol will deteriorate the fuel lines and gaskets and diagrams of older cars like it does the lawnmowers and weedeaters etc , causing them to catch fire at some point . If you develop a fuel leak , you are likely to catch fire ! Thanks BIG government ...
  • 35
    Howard Davis Arkansas June 18, 2015 at 10:10
    I would like to know what years these "older" vehicles tested were. We are fortunate here to have a station that sells ethanol free gasoline, but the price has gone from a nickle more per gallon to more than fifty cents over the ethanol blend stuff. My 89 Dodge pickup does okay on the blend, but it gets better mileage on the pure gasoline. I don't use blended fuel in my 52 Studebaker.
  • 36
    Bob Peters Prairie Village KS June 18, 2015 at 00:46
    No ethanol in my bikes or cars...you can still find pure gas if you look around...
  • 37
    Fredd OH June 19, 2015 at 07:53
    Using any ethanol blend in a classic car, truck, or machine should be avoided. We have several classic cars, heavy trucks, and antique garden tractors. Corrosive nature of the ethanol skyrockets when ambient humdity condenses with the daily temperature swings causing dew point condensation in the fuel tank. This moisture activates the corrosive nature of the ethanol and its effects on aluminum, steel, and brass, as well as creating electrolosis between dissimilar metals. Once the ethanol has absorbed all of the moisture it is capable of holding, the ethanol/water mixture settles out of the gasoline in what's known as "Phase Separation." Once Phase Separation it declares all-out war on the metals of the fuel system. We have replaced carbs, fuel pump, and fuel tanks before we learned how this all occurs. In many areas of the county the afrm co-ops supply an ethanol-free premium gasoline at their automated fueling facilities. Marinas are also a good source for ethanol free premium gasoline. Beware that you must completely empty your tank of the ethanol blend for the straight gasoline to be completely effective. As a side note, many co-ops use Top-tier additives and Stabil in their supply of premium ethanol free gasoline. Happy Motoring!
  • 38
    Lee Kelly Tennessee June 19, 2015 at 08:27
    We have about four gas stations in the area that sell 93 with no E10. I have four classic cars and run only non-ethanol gas in them well as all my yard equipment. The E10 will totally screw up your chainsaw, pressure washer, leaf blower, lawnmower, dirt bike etc. This is really bad news for fuel systems. It's time for a wake up call !!! Many states are starting to ban the sell of gasoline with E10.
  • 39
    Robert Jenson Phoenix AZ June 19, 2015 at 09:54
    I received an e-mail some years ago that featured cars and service stations from the '20s and '30s. Among the photos was one of a service station in the late '20s - early 30's submitted by the Nebraska State Historical Society, which showed a sign beyond the 2 vertical visible pumps (lighted, clear glass cylinder on top) advertising "Corn Alcohol Gasoline". The dealer's name appeared to be Earl Cory Gasoline Company. There were 2 cars at the pumps, one which could have been a Model A Ford, and the other a sedan of the same general vintage. Seems to me that ethanol has been with us for longer than is presently advertised, and that maybe the old technology parts and cars handled it better than our "newfangled" cars with all their new disposable parts. Also, politics and corporate profit have a lot to do with what we are given to be able to use - for good or bad.
  • 40
    Andrew San Antonio June 19, 2015 at 11:47
    That's it Paul? No summary, no conclusion or wrap-up? No counterpoints to long term damage for vintage/classics? Think you need to work on your writing basics under 'writing framework 101'...
  • 41
    A VandenBrand FL June 23, 2015 at 17:14
    Ethanol. Here is my take on it. The corn industry is heavily subsidized by the government. We have too much of it. So we made and promoted high fructose corn syrup. It turns out that that is bad for your health. So the next step is to make corn into ethanol and dilute the gasoline with it in the name of better emissions. That creates some problems though: 1) from what I understand, ethanol is not as energy dense as gasoline so your gas mileage goes down. The question is: do the improved emissions per gallon outweigh the burning of more fuel (per mile)? 2) Ethanol is hydrophilic so is tends to corrode parts of your car. Therefor the consumer's tax money goes to the corn industry, he/she ends up buying more gas at the pump and spends more money on car repairs. Good for the corn industry, Oil companies and Automotive industry but not for the consumer. You can buy low octane 'Recreational' Gasoline at certain stations or go to a marina or a racetrack if there is one nearby for non ethanol gasoline, but you pay a price for that and I'm not sure if it's legal to put that in your street driven car.
  • 42
    Patrick Cobb Tulsa, Oklahoma July 14, 2015 at 17:22
    I never use ethanol blended fuel in any of my sports cars or muscle cars. As ethanol separates out water from fuel if it sits for any extended period of time, it is to much risk for my special machinery to save a few bucks. The same goes for lawn mowers, boats,etc that have high compression engines. We have a number of real gas pumps around to keep my equipment running at top efficiency.
  • 43
    Rob Montie Georgia July 16, 2015 at 12:54
    Here in GA the new Raceway stations around Atlanta actually have an extra hose on all of their pumps that have non-ethanol gasoline.

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