Is Ethanol Damaging Your Car's Engine?

Is Ethanol Damaging Your Car's Engine?

Do you wish to learn the truth? We have more corn than we can handle – and corn is cheap. It has mostly replaced cane sugar in the majority of our prepared and packaged goods. Not only that, but it is gradually making its way into our gasoline in the form of ethanol. Conventional wisdom holds that an inexpensive, domestically produced fuel substitute would be a desirable thing; however, it is not that simple. With a few exceptions, ethanol is not a viable fuel on its own. To some extent, ethanol does succeed in diluting our petroleum-based fuel, so helping to stretch our supply. When the United States originally implemented this method, only a small proportion of ethanol was added to the mix; most engines didn't notice and continued to run normally. However, gasoline is currently manufactured with 10 to 15% ethanol, and some lawmakers want to raise it to 20%. It's also worth noting that there's an ethanol-gas blend called as E85, which contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, but it's only legal for use in specially constructed vehicles labeled "Flex Fuel."

How big of a difference can there be between E10 fuel, which is widely used but not universally embraced, and E15 fuel? What kind of damage may that extra 5% cause? The data is solid enough that, in 2011, several automakers stated that owners of older vehicles running E15 risked having their warranties nullified. Although it should be noted that most cars older than the EPA's 2001 model year restriction were unlikely to still have legitimate, unexpired warranties. So, what exactly is the big deal? After all, we're used to E10, and our automobiles should be as well. However, when the EPA declares a fuel blend "legal," they are effectively allowing themselves to overwhelm the market with this diluted gasoline because the agency ultimately controls what is available to customers.

If E15 becomes more affordable than E10, drivers will be obliged to buy it. It's either that or not fill up at all. According to Mike Allen of Popular Mechanics, a gasoline-ethanol combination is totally acceptable under ideal conditions. However, consumers have little control over these conditions, and thus have no means of knowing if the fuel they are purchasing is tainted. All gasoline is subject to weather and moisture content variations, but ethanol exacerbates this problem. A higher concentration of alcohol in a gas tank, any gas tank – at the manufacturing facility, on the highway, in storage tanks at a gas station, in your car's reservoir, and even in the red plastic can sitting on the floor in your garage – means that the alcohol can grab and hold more water than straight gasoline. If the water content is high enough, the alcohol and water will separate from the gasoline, resulting in a globby mixture that your car's engine can't use. And it can happen at any point of the transit, storage, and consumption process, worsening as time passes. In brief, ethanol increases the likelihood that your vehicle may be damaged while attempting to process and burn polluted fuel.

Assume that the fuel's environmental conditions aren't seriously harmed most of the time, that its ethanol remains suspended, and that the gasoline reaches its destination adequately. The ethanol in the petrol is still causing problems. Many older fuel system components were not built to withstand alcohol's corrosive qualities, and ethanol can cause significant damage as it moves through the system. Gasoline firms may even sell specific blends as having "engine cleaning" capabilities, although if the alcohol in the fuel cleans old deposits off engine components, those deposits are unlikely to disintegrate; instead, they will likely be transported along until they become stuck somewhere else.

According to a 2012 Auto Alliance research, employing an ethanol fuel blend caused internal engine damage in some cars (model years 2001 to 2009). Damage to the valves and valve seats was visible in some of the examined vehicles. One of the 16 vehicles in the Auto Alliance research did not meet emissions compliance guidelines, which means it generated more pollutants than the EPA allows. The study also found that cars driving on E15 have lower gas mileage, requiring more gasoline to drive the same distance, negating the benefits of diluting it in the first place. Some organizations are attempting to postpone the implementation of E15 until the general public realizes how the change will affect them.

According to the EPA, stickers on gas pumps will effectively express what E15 signifies and assure users that, based on EPA data, E15 is safe for most autos. The new mix was supposed to hit the market near the end of 2012, but the infrastructure needed to distribute and sell E15 is still in the works. In late 2012, AAA issued a survey that indicated that 95 percent of drivers still don't know what E15 is, let alone how or why it could affect their vehicles. E15 will not be postponed indefinitely – the agricultural business lobby is a powerful force – so there may still be time to educate consumers.