November 11, 2008

Ethanol: What Is It Doing To Your Car?

By: by News Channel 13


Declining gas prices have made us feel a lot better, but some drivers have a lingering concern when they see the sign on the pump that says,"10% Ethanol." It's been in gasoline for 20 years. It's homegrown in the USA, but what is it doing to our engines?

Michele Linehan loves her 2007 Toyota Prius. The travelling nurse was thrilled to get 55 miles per gallon on the highway when she first got her car, but now the mpg is down to around 47, sometimes less.

"I thought, what is going on with my car, you know, because it dropped all the way down to 38," said Linehan.

Ethanol was substituted for the additive MTBE in 2004 in New York and most of the Northeast.

Michele isn't sure what has caused her mileage to drop, but she suspects ethanol.

"I feel like everybody is being ripped off. Not just me. It's effecting everybody. It's not right we are paying more for gas and getting less," added Linehan.

Fuel experts say ethanol does burn more quickly and gives you fewer miles to the gallon, but Dr. Pradeep Haldar, an expert in alternative fuels at U-Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering says ethanol is not hurting your engine.

"15% ethanol in gasoline is not bad for regular engines. Especially the newer engines that were built after 1988. Those engines can handle gasoline with 10% ethanol. No problem," said Dr. Haldar.

But some mechanics say that may not be entirely true.

"Look inside there. See the black. See all that black gunk," said Jim Harbeck who has been fixing cars for 20 years.

He says he's noticed some engine problems, namely deposits in the throttle body where air and fuel are mixed. Those deposits can cause poor engine performance.

But he says it's not a huge deal. A little carburetor cleaner does the trick.

"People today, I think they have to learn they have to take care of their car a little better. Not just change the oil every three thousand miles, but the throttle bodies, use more injection cleaner, you're going to see better results," said Harbeck.


We contacted the major automakers; Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Toyota, all told NewsChannel 13 they have not received any complaints from customers about ethanol affecting engine performance.

This response from Chrysler was typical: "All of our gasoline-powered vehicles are able to operate on the blend of 10% ethanol used in various locations around the U.S. "

Ed Austro's been fixing lawnmowers and other smaller engines at All Seasons Equipment in Scotia for more than 12 years. He says he's seeing more wear and tear on older engine parts since the 10% ethanol mix was introduced.

"Well, we've seen the O-rings in the carburetors deteriorating. We've had holes in floats more than normal," said Austro.

"Ethanol can tend to corrode some of the parts of an engine. If you have organic parts, things like gaskets and things like that, because ethanol is a very very commonly used solvent," said Dr. Haldar.

Mechanics have also noticed problems with older model motorcycle engines, also snow mobiles and four wheelers. Newer engines with fuel injection don't seem to have a problem.

Mechanics recommend you run the gas tank dry before you store your equipment for the season. This will prevent water from accumulating in the tank.

If you have an older engine, also drain the carburetor.

And, if you have been storing gas in a five gallon can for a long time, add some stabilizer.