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Effects of Ethanol in Gasoline


"Not recommended for use with Ethanol fuels"

Have you ever seen this and thought to yourself, “If it can’t handle ethanol and ethanol is in 95% of gasoline these days, what am I to do? Where will I go for Fuel? Why exactly is this warning on a fuel related product at all?”

In a world where the Environmental Protection Agency and farmers alike love ethanol it’s hard to get away from it entirely. It’s also hard to argue its’ benefits when your main defense is that you don’t like it because it tears up hot rod fuel systems. However, there are some combatant products out there to help prevent the effects of ethanol and we will talk about those.

Unfortunately, the wall of fuel stabilizers at your local parts store is massive, mostly confusing and there isn’t a lot of information out there about what is best for your application, especially on the automotive side of things. There aren’t many regulations on fuel additives/ stabilizers or any real specifications to help us decide which is best.

I mean we could just not use ethanol right? Well, sure but aviation fuel isn’t on every corner and it certainly isn’t on the cheap side of fuels if there is such a thing. In my area we only actually have one gas station that is about ½ hour from my place, which is inconvenient.

Race fuel and aviation fuel is just not affordable to me even as little as my hot rod is driven. That being said there is certainly a reason why they don’t use ethanol in aviation, as it’s ok to pull off to the side of the road, but not OK to drop out of the sky!

Besides, just giving up on the use of it, which would be very difficult and the fact that ethanol is everywhere makes it a hard thing to let sink in. I want to build a car and go to my local fuel station, fill her up and hit the road. I also want to be able to let my car sit over the winter and not have to completely rebuild the fuel system after the winters frozen tundra leaves.

Ethanol is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs water, and it absorbs it easier than straight gasoline does. When it absorbs water and that combo sets, the water separates and drops to the bottom of whatever is holding it. Fuel tanks, fuel lines and of course carburetor bowls. Fuel that contains water can cause all kinds of issues especially with clogging fuel filters that aren’t meant for those kinds of conditions.

So what do we do?

Below is a list of things to help battle ethanol. These are suggested from an article written by Jim O’Clair in Hemmings Daily.

  • Replace any plastic or rubber fuel lines with ethanol-resistant hose or nylon tubing.
  • Install a water separator filter in the fuel line leading to the carburetor. Water collects in the filter and can be removed periodically.
  • Replace any fiberglass tanks with steel or aluminum.
  • Ensure that any O-rings in the fuel system are also ethanol-compatible.
  • Keep your tank as full as possible to prevent air space where condensation can form.
  • Use specific ethanol-compatible fuel storage additives. These are normally blue in color. Regular fuel stabilizers will not work unless they are labeled ethanol fuel-compatible. (I recommend Lucas 10576 Safeguard Ethanol Fuel Treatment, sold here at Speedway Motors.)
  • Shop around for a marina or service station that does not pump E10 or E85. None of these stations will be affiliated with a major gasoline producer, but there are still some out there, especially in areas around lakes and rivers where boating is popular.
  • Vent your fuel system during storage for extended periods; the moisture your fuel system might absorb from the outside will be less than the moisture created in the air space inside.
  • Use a fogging solution in your carburetor during storage to prevent condensation from collecting in fuel bowls.
  • Use of isopropyl alcohol-based dry gas will help to absorb system moisture. Regular dry gas is ethanol-based and will only make the problem worse. Isopropyl-based additives actually combine with the water molecules and removing moisture through the combustion chamber.
  • Use of a flex fuel-compatible fuel filter where possible will prevent degradation of the paper media in your filter by water in the fuel system.

Now that you have viewed this list, are these things you are willing to do? Is there anything on this list that makes you want to give up on ethanol all together?

It seems like a lot of work and it certainly feels like a daunting task. Unfortunately, it is just one of those things we must do to ensure a long happy life of cruising! If you have had issues with ethanol in the past then you know what it takes to combat the issues.

If you haven’t had issues and would like to prevent them then take a look at your fuel system and plan for an ethanol fighting setup with the above precautions. I don’t think you will be left on the side of the road due to ethanol if you take the right measures. Happy Hot Rodding!

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