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Trending at the pump: ethanol gas and auto repairs

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Trending at the pump: ethanol gas and auto repairs

If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to have its way, there’s going to be a lot more ethanol in the nation’s gasoline supply.

Will the auto repair industry see an influx of ethanol-related engine damage? What kind of damage should service technicians be ready for?

The EPA has mandated that ethanol usage in fuel increase to almost 14 billion gallons in 2013. The mandate is part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was expanded by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The EPA’s idea was to increase the usage of renewable energy in the United States while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The goal is to continually increase ethanol levels until we reach 36 billion gallons of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply by 2022.

According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), ethanol absorbs water, which can then create formic acid and corrode metals, plastics and rubber. The EPA allows use of gas with up to 15% ethanol (E15) in 2001 and newer vehicles, but agreed to make it “illegal to fuel pre-’01 vehicles” with E15.

The problem is, ethanol is already widely distributed in the nation’s fuel supply. But motorists may not know they are using it.

“Nearly every gas station in the country is selling gasoline with up to 10% ethanol, E10,” says Stuart Gosswein, SEMA’s senior director of federal government affairs.

“The EPA has not issued a uniform label for E10. These labels, if any, are regulated state-by-state. Motorists in 15 states may not be aware of filling-up with ethanol since their state does not require a gas pump label.”

Tire dealers performing vehicle repairs may already be seeing the results of increased ethanol use.

“We’re talking long-term damage, but we can’t predict how long and how many miles before damage becomes a problem,” says Mike Mavrigian, editor of MTD’s sister publication Auto Service Professional. “The higher the ethanol content is, the greater the chance for corrosive damage.”

In addition to corrosion and dissolved plastic/rubber parts, ethanol causes high heat damage.

“E15 burns hotter than E10 and can wreak havoc with fuel mixtures and injections, potentially causing some engines to stall, misfire and overheat,” explains Gosswein. “While the EPA has acknowledged that E15 poses a danger to pre-2001 vehicles, most new cars are not certified to use E15, and vehicle manufacturers will deny warranty on claims associated with E15 damage.”

There is mounting opposition to E15 gas.

In May, the Maine legislature passed LD 115, a bill making it illegal to sell gasoline that contains more than 10% ethanol. The law would not take effect until 10 other states enact similar laws.

In March, Congress held a hearing on the impact of E15 gas when it identified warranty denials, motorist liability and improper labeling as three critical issues making the introduction of E15 premature before further testing and education is completed.

SEMA says its Government Affairs Office is working hard to protect unsuspecting motorists and companies that produce their vehicles and equipment. In the meantime, repairers should be aware of ethanol-related damage and educate customers on the effects of ethanol.

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