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Is ethanol in gas bad for my car?

If you like debating trade-offs and the pros and cons of everything under the sun, have we got a fuel for you: E85, also known as Flex Fuel. 

what is e85?

E85 is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Since ethanol is made from corn grown in America and gasoline is made from oil drilled in… wherever…as you might expect, ethanol is much cheaper than gasoline. And, therefore, a fuel that is 85% ethanol will be much cheaper than a fuel that is 90% or more gasoline, which is what you’ll find at most gas stations. 

Whether you buy 87, 89 or 93, unless you find a gas station offering Non Ethanol gasoline, you’re filling up with E10: gasoline cut with up to 10% ethanol.

is their a price difference between E10 and non-ethanol?

A tank of E85 costs less than a tank of E10, which costs less than a tank of Non Ethanol gas. Easy decision, right? Wrong. E85 is significantly less efficient than E10. Your gas mileage can drop up to 30% with E85. So while you’re paying less for each gallon, you’re buying many more gallons to cover the same number of miles.

Is their an  environmental difference?

But maybe you’re thinking, “You know, there’s more than just me in this world. Let’s think about the environment.” Burning ethanol releases much less carbon into the atmosphere than burning gasoline. The emissions from a Flex Fuel vehicle are a fraction of those from a similar vehicle with a gas-powered engine.

While the direct environmental impact from your car will be lower with ethanol, things look much different when you consider the entire process.

Ethanol production has a much larger footprint than oil production. Drilling and producing oil from a well requires only a few acres, and that well can produce millions of barrels of crude oil. Since a barrel of crude oil (42 gallons) can be refined into about half a barrel (19-20 gallons) of gasoline, those few acres can fuel lots of cars. 

With ethanol, the equation flips right over. An acre of corn yields about 325 gallons of ethanol. That’s about the same amount of fuel the average American driver goes through in a year! And then you consider how much energy goes into growing the corn in terms of fertilizer and farm equipment, then getting it to the ethanol processing plant, then on to the consumer. Turns out, ethanol might consume more energy than it produces, and it’s environmental impact is no better – maybe worse - than gasoline.

At least if we use E85 we can stick it to Big Oil, right? Big Corn would like a word.

can i use e85 in my car or truck?

With all these competing factors, how can you decide whether to fill up with E10, E15 or E85? Maybe you don’t have to. Your car might make the decision for you.

Only Flex Fuel cars should use E85. E85 can corrode a “regular” fuel system for gasoline engines. Even E15 can damage an older car that wasn’t built with the possibility of higher levels of ethanol in mind.

On the other hand, if you have a Flex Fuel car, you can use regular gasoline with no problem. You just have to decide if you want to.

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