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EPA to expand E15 Ethanol Fuel – Is Ethanol bad for your car’s engine?

Written By | May 2, 2022
Car Coach, Ethanol, Gas, Fuel

The Biden administration announced it will suspend a federal rule that bars higher levels of ethanol in gasoline during the summertime. The move is intended to lower fuel prices. However, that decision to authorize year-round use of E15 or 15% ethanol will impact gas supplies, prices, your car’s engine, and the environment. And maybe not in the way the government had planned.

In 2011, the EPA approved an increase of 15% ethanol blend for use in light-duty vehicles for model years 2001 and newer, but prohibited gas stations from selling it between June 1 and Sept. 15 because of concerns that it adds to smog in high temperatures and causes pollution.

The EPA issued an emergency waiver to allow the widespread sale of E15, as the high-blend ethanol is known, during the summer months this year, even though there is a negative environmental impact. Senior Biden administration officials said the move will save drivers an average of 10 cents per gallon at about 2,300 of more than 150,000 U.S. gas stations that currently sell E15. Those stations are mostly in the Midwest and the South, including Texas. The goal is to lower gasoline prices.

But there is more to E15, and the negatives may surprise you.

Let’s start with answering what is ethanol? Ethanol is a biofuel derived from fermented corn or other products. In the U.S., ethanol is predominately corn-based and required by federal law to be blended in the nation’s gasoline supply. Most gasoline sold in the U.S. is blended with 10% ethanol, also known as E10. You see that sticker on the gas pumps.

E15 is not approved for use in non-automotive engines such as boats, motorcycles, lawnmowers, and other small engines. Zero ethanol is best for small engines.

According to environmentalists, ethanol production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion and raises prices for corn and other crops. A recent study found that the federal ethanol mandate inflated corn prices by 30% from 2008 to 2016, made corn-based ethanol more carbon-intensive than gasoline, and increased annual fertilizer use by up to 8%, polluting waterways.

According to the EPA, ethanol impacts motor vehicles in two primary ways. First, ethanol leans the air/fuel ratio which can lead to increased exhaust gas temperatures and potentially increases the incremental deterioration of emission control hardware and performance over time, possibly causing catalyst failure.

Ethanol can cause material compatibility issues, which may lead to other component failures.

There are material compatibility issues. Ethanol has been known to wreak havoc on fuel systems, deteriorating plastic and silicone components such as hoses, fuel pumps and filters, gas tanks, and fuel injectors. And the repair costs are your responsibility. There’s a growing trend among motorists shopping around for gas stations which offer ethanol free gas, even if they have to pay a bit more per gallon to get it. Distributors are noticing, and more and more stations are featuring this option. There doesn’t seem to be any dispute that pure gasoline delivers better mileage than gas that’s part ethanol.

Mileage suffers by 3 to 4 percent using E10, or gas that’s up to 10 percent ethanol, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

The Bottom Line:

Automakers continue to quietly void warranties if you use E-15 gas. The big factor is automakers are aware of the damages from E15 and they aren’t going to honor warranties on vehicles guzzling the latest 15% ethanol blend unless you’ve got a brand new car or one that is specifically rated as a “flex-fuel vehicle.”

AAA and a number of automakers came out swinging against E15, warning that the extra ethanol could corrode plastic, rubber and metal parts in cars not built to handle it.

Five manufacturers — BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen — stated their warranties will not cover E15 claims, the automobile association warned. And eight others — GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo — said that E15 may void warranties.

One last point:

President Biden is ending the moratorium on federal drilling leases, but this won’t help gas prices for over a year. The Biden administration is making available now 144,000 acres of land, which sounds like a lot, but the industry really wants five times that amount of land to drill on to meet demand and lower prices. Green New Deal advocates are not happy about this drilling. However, the government is increasing the royalties from 12.5% to 18.75% on the oil, basically wanting a piece of the action that increases the cost of drilling.

This will not help lower gasoline prices.

There is so much more to discuss on this, put your comments below and let’s start the conversation.

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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news and safety issues.