Debates around ethanol use have out-burned the fuel’s actual use since E85 started showing up at pumping stations in 2005. Most recently, a study suggests that E15 is likely to incur costly repairs in older engines.
Despite the battle raging for almost a decade, it seems there’s still plenty of fire left in the argument. A new study suggests that cars running on E15, which has 15 percent ethanol, will suffer engine damage — the most likely repair required being rebuilt engine heads.
The argument goes like this: ethanol attracts more water than gasoline, which can cause engines not designed to accept the fuel mixture to corrode more quickly under the right conditions.
“The unknowns concern us greatly, since only a fraction of vehicles have been tested to determine their tolerance to E15,” said Mitch Bainwol, president & CEO, Auto Alliance. “Automakers did not build these vehicles to handle the more corrosive E15 fuel. That’s why we urged EPA to wait for the results of further testing.”
The waiting Bainwol referred to is in authorizing the sale of gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol over the previous standard 10 percent maximum.
In 2005 when E85 was making headlines as a gateway to less dependence on foreign oil and an environmental savior, demand turned out to be far shorter than the booming supply. According to the Global Automakers’ statement, energy company Growth Energy petitioned the EPA to allow for the 5 percent increase in the allowable maximum.
Tests by the EPA that automakers say only concerned damage to catalytic converters concluded that cars made after 2001 could safely use the fuel, prompting the expectation that it would be for sale later this year.
That decision is making the world’s automakers uncomfortable because the change in fuel might unfairly alter the expected durability of vehicles covered under warranty by the respective manufacturers.
The study backing that concern tested eight engines with 15 and 20 percent ethanol fuel and found that two engines failed a compression test, one failed emissions testing and one failed overall. It’s important to note that the study was conducted by several automakers in partnership with the research branch of the oil industry, though.
So to recap, ethanol proponents are arguing that the fuel is OK to use, spurred by a need to sell more. Automakers, on the other hand, are afraid using a 15 percent mixture could damage the cars they backed with warranties, and the oil industry doesn’t like the idea of selling less gas — no surprises in any of those scenarios.
E15 might not hurt your engine, but rebuilding cylinder heads costs thousands of dollars that people might be wary to risk spending, regardless of who is telling them what to buy.