Cleaning Up the Ethanol Myths
Ethanol is billed as one of America’s resources destined to free consumers from too many years of the Mid-East gasoline stranglehold. This fuel relieves our dependence on foreign supply, and at the same time cleans up the environment for our children and grandchildren, right? Well, in some ways these assertions are true, but by no means is ethanol the panacea or “perfect solution” that some proponents would have you believe.
Consumers are being bombarded with messages touting the wonders of ethanol and, in many cases, ethanol is hailed as the primary cure for our oil dependency dilemma. Most recent studies have centered on the decreased amount of pollution coming out of the tail pipe, thus leading consumers to believe that ethanol is cleaner through the entire fuel, combustion, and exhaust systems. There are a few myths resulting from these studies, and we will now attempt to clean up a couple of these misconceptions.
“Ethanol mixes with gasoline with no effect on newer fuel systems.”
Ethanol is an excellent solvent. There is dirt, sediment, resins, and other gunk that previously lay dormant in many vehicle fuel tanks and lines, because gasoline has little soluble effect on some contaminants. Ethanol will dissolve resins and loosen sediment that gasoline never affected. The contaminants will carry through the fuel system until some component stops them, like a fuel filter or fuel injector, or will be burned up and blown out the combustion chamber. Most likely, the fuel filter will stop the large particles. This could necessitate fuel filter replacement sooner than OEM recommendation.
Slight deposits could build up on injectors, not only restricting the fuel flow but also altering the spray pattern, thus depriving the engine of maximum fuel burning efficiency. Left untreated, the deposits accumulate until the consumer is forced to address major performance issues. The addition of a premium fuel system cleaner to the gas tank on a regular basis will help ensure more power and fuel efficiency. While a fuel tank additive will provide a slow and thorough cleaning, remember…you get what you pay for. Generally, paying for a more expensive cleaner will pay back dividends with accelerated cleaning performance.
“Ethanol burns cleaner; there are fewer pollutants emitted in the exhaust.”
Fewer contaminants are blown into the atmosphere with ethanol, but it does not necessarily burn cleaner. A recent study published in Ethanol Producer Magazine described the phenomenon of E10 fuel and the effect it has on intake systems. This is best explained by examining the three popular types of automotive fuel: gasoline, E10 (10% ethanol), and E85 (85% ethanol) and the deposits each produce.
Gasoline – Pure gasoline naturally leaves intake deposits. Over the years, gasoline manufacturers added detergents to help minimize these deposits. The deposits were reduced but not eliminated, necessitating an intake, fuel system, and throttle body cleaning intermittently.
E10 Fuel – This fuel is found on almost every gas island around the country. It has become the standard automotive fuel and can be identified by the sign “Contains up to 10% ethanol.” Even though ethanol is recognized as being a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline, independent testing shows that E10 (10% ethanol) produces a mixture which doubles the intake deposits of regular gasoline. One investigative reporter from KHOU-TV in Houston did a feature on ethanol and interviewed local mechanics around the city. Each described the recent surge in carbon deposits in intake systems since the widespread use of E10 fuel. Their customers noticed a drop in power, decreased gas mileage, and under extreme conditions the valve spring could not close the intake valve, resulting in a loss of compression and the inability to start the car.
Unfortunately, most are not aware of this growing performance problem, and vehicles are slowly losing power and using more fuel, until the engine runs so poorly the only remedy is a costly repair. A reminder for many customers may trigger a reaction for needed intake maintenance, like: “How has your car been running? Have you noticed a loss in power or a drop in fuel mileage?” Explaining the need for internal engine cleaning and the benefits for the consumer may avoid costly repairs in the future. A quality top engine service combined with a premium fuel system cleaner can restore engine performance to factory levels in most instances. You can add a throttle plate cleaning and remove the heavy deposits in that area for a complete service. Maintaining the fuel and intake system is not just a profitable opportunity, but truly a needed service for your customers that is being overlooked.
E85 Fuel – This fuel is still in its infancy stage but growing in popularity, especially with skyrocketing gasoline prices. A strange phenomenon is that while E10 fuel produces double the intake deposits of pure gasoline, the level of E85 intake deposits approaches or goes lower than gasoline deposits. This would lend credence to the theory that ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline with one hitch… E85 fuel does not contain detergents that you find in gasoline. Therefore, using gasoline may provide a cleaner intake system than pure E85.
Gasoline additives and cleaners may not be used with E85 due to solubility issues. As E85 gains popularity and more widespread use, you will see alcohol and ethanol based cleaners and additives developed that will address the E85 maintenance category.
The only “constant” in the automotive service arena is the constant change in services required to properly maintain our customers’ vehicles. Alternate fuels present chemical manufacturers and automotive technicians with challenges that are being addressed and updated on a daily basis. Successful technicians will stay informed, and align themselves with suppliers who provide up-to-date products and information. Make sure you are among the survivors.