The last time you filled up on gas, you may or may not have noticed a warning sticker on the side of the pump that read “Contains Ethanol.” Economically and politically, ethanol in our gas supply has been a controversy for quite some time.
Below, we zero in on how ethanol effects your car’s internal systems. Could ethanol-blend fuel be your engine’s silent killer? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Ethanol and Why Is It Used?
Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from corn. It was introduced into our gas supply to replace a former pump additive known as MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). MBTE and ethanol’s main responsibilities were and are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in vehicles that don’t use closed-loop fuel injection systems. But with few open-loop fuel injection systems still on the road today, ethanol sticks around to help stretch our gasoline supply.
Problems with Ethanol + Gas
Why isn’t ethanol an additive we can feel good about? Let’s take a moment to talk about the properties of ethanol and what happens when ethanol and gasoline mix and sit.
Ethanol alcohol is referred to as hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture. If ethanol remains in your car’s fuel system for an extended period, it draws water from the tank, upsetting your car’s fuel mix and gumming up the system. This can cause major damage to more than just your engine.
Is Ethanol Affecting My Car?
Do you drive a modern car? If so, the answer is not likely. Modern cars are built with resilient seals and internal parts that are made to work with ethanol, but older cars aren’t built with the same gaskets and seals that can handle ethanol-blend gasoline.
Do you let your car sit without driving it for long periods of time? If so, the answer is more likely to be yes, especially if you drive an older vehicle. Ethanol gasoline is made as a through product, ideally to be used within 30 days inside your gas tank. Though 30 days may seem like an extended period, take a long vacation, keep your car in the garage during a stretch of bad weather, etc. and you’re practically there. After staying in one place, ethanol starts doing its damage.
How to Protect Your Engine from the Effects of Ethanol
Ethanol can damage anything that runs on gas—generators, lawn mowers, cars, etc. But there are ways to counteract these harmful effects.
If you know that gas-powered equipment will sit dormant for a while, you can use an aftermarket fuel stabilizer to mitigate the effects of ethanol-blend gas in your fuel system. One well-known brand is STA-BIL®.
Make sure that you drive your car frequently and if you plan on it sitting for a long time, treat it beforehand.
Getting to know the science behind how engines convert fuel into energy is incredible. ATC Automotive and Marine Technology students become experts of this type of engine science. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our eBooks and Resources for plenty of (free!) interesting engine reads.