Can any car use E85?
Editor's Note: Since this article was originally posted, much has happened on America's energy front. The U.S. is now a net exporter of energy; natural gas is both plentiful and cheap; EV and hybrids are, if not ubiquitous, at least growing in popularity; and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – OPEC – has been running a bargain basement business model for almost as long as candidates were running in the 2016 race. In short, the need and/or desire for plant-based fuels are a symptom of government mandate more than a reflection of consumer desire.
Regardless, ethanol remains in most gasolines available at a consumer pump, typically as E10 (10% ethanol) or E15. The presence of ethanol provides a cleaner burn, albeit at the cost of greater consumption. And while largely anecdotal, as long as Iowa still holds an early caucus in the presidential sweepstakes the U.S. will probably consume ethanol in at least some of its transportation fleet.
Don't try this! We mean it. DO NOT TRY THIS! The American Coalition for Ethanol ran a 2000 Chevy Tahoe, without flex-fuel capability, exclusively on E85 (a mix of 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) for 100,000 miles. Then they stripped down the engine and took a look. Everything looked fine. Fuel lines, fuel pumps, etc. In fact, they say a few things looked better than normal. The included video includes a look at the parts of the engine from that Tahoe.
Again, DO NOT TRY THIS! But car companies know they must comply with small percentage blends of ethanol, so most cars made since the early '90s can handle ethanol. The only problem is that non flex-fuel vehicles don't have the sensors necessary to detect ethanol content. They also don't have the control software to manage the air fuel mixture properly. So your car might run on E85 – it's simply not going to run well. It could also cause major damage, and using E85 in vehicles not equipped for E85 usually voids your warranty. So that's why you should not try it.
This leads to an interesting potential. What if a private or public group went to car manufacturers or did tests on their own to find out which cars could withstand E85? Then this was made available to the public. This would be great for the ethanol market. Many people think ethanol is bad, perceiving it to be more polluting (it isn't – ed.) and less efficient. The creation of a mild or soft flex fuel standard won't make them happy.
(fellow AutoblogGreen blogger Sam Abuelsamid contributed to this article)
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