Ethanol Facts: Engine Performance

Ethanol, an alcohol fuel, provides high quality, high octane for exceptional engine performance and reduced emissions. Ethanol has been used in cars since Henry Ford designed his 1908 Model T to operate on alcohol. Trillions of miles have been driven on ethanol-blended fuel since 1980. In fact, several teams in national and international racing competitions use ethanol because of its high octane and exceptional performance. Since 2010, nearly all gasoline sold in the United States has contained 10% ethanol.

FACT: With a 113 octane rating, ethanol is the highest performance fuel on the market and keeps today's high-compression engines running smoothly.

Octane Rating

FACT: Ethanol-blended fuel keeps your fuel system clean for optimal performance because it does not leave gummy deposits.

The use of leaded-gasoline generally resulted in greater deposits throughout the fuel system. When cleaner gasoline with ethanol and detergents replaced leaded-gasoline beginning in the mid-1980s, there were some initial problems with plugged fuel filters as deposits were flushed from the fuel system. Today, all gasolines sold in the U.S. include detergents designed to keep fuel systems clean.

“Here are the facts: Of the 175,000 cars and small trucks that we have serviced in 42 years, not one engine has been damaged by ethanol. When it comes to the fuel line and primer, ethanol is no worse than gasoline when proper storage guidelines are followed” says Bobby Likis, car-talk host of ‘Bobby Likis Car Clinic’ and owner and operator of an award-winning automotive service facility.

The introduction of new gasoline additives and reformulated gasolines has resulted in a lot of confusion. Not all auto technicians and mechanics receive factual and current information on the numerous changes that have been made in modern gasoline formulations. The need for current, accurate information prompted the Renewable Fuels Foundation to provide an educational grant for the preparation of the Changes in Gasoline Manual: The Auto Technician's Gasoline Quality Guide. The Manual is designed to ensure that service technicians have the information they need to understand fuel quality issues, both for diagnostic reasons and for the ability to convey accurate information and recommendations to the consumer.

FACT: Ethanol helps prevent wintertime problems by acting as a gas-line antifreeze.

Therefore, if you live in a cold weather climate, you don't need to buy over-the-counter additives such as de-icers to prevent water, which collects in your fuel system, from freezing in your gas-line if you use ethanol. 

FACT: Ethanol-blended fuels are approved under the warranties of all auto manufacturers marketing vehicles in the U.S. Some even recommend ethanol use for its clean burning benefits.

When ethanol was first introduced in the early 1980s, some cars experienced deterioration of some elastomers (rubber-like parts) and metal in fuel system components. Very quickly manufacturers upgraded these fuel system components so that today they are all compatible with ethanol fuels.

FACT: All mainstream manufacturers of power equipment, motorcycles, snowmobiles and outboard motors permit the use of gasoline blended with up to 10% ethanol (E10) in their products.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use ethanol in my snowmobile?

Absolutely. In fact, due to rising concerns about emissions from snowmobiles in some recreation and wilderness areas, the use of ethanol-blended fuel is required to protect air quality. Gasoline containing up to 10% ethanol is approved by all engine warranties. Check your owner's manual. Tests completed on SkiDoo Snowmobiles showed no problems with engine parts, pistons were normal and lubrication good. Some manufacturers recommend changing to a larger main carburetor jet size when operating on oxygenated fuel.

Can I use ethanol in my motorboat?

Yes. Most marine manufacturers have allowed the use of E10 for decades but may specify certain precautionary actions such as a water separator filter. In fact, ethanol is the oxygenate of choice in some water-recreation areas because of its clean air and clean water benefits.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has indicated that lower level ethanol blends - E10 or lower usually present no major problems.  However, they oppose higher blend levels.

There are over 12 million recreational boats in the United States, some of which are vintage watercraft, so it is difficult to make a blanket statement on every make and model year.  Most watercraft operate fine on E10. For instance, Honda, Kawasaki, Mercury Marine, OMC (Johnson/Evinrude), Pleasurecraft, Tigershark (Artco), Tracker and Yamaha allow the use of ethanol fuels in their products.  Mercury Marine has indicated that their outboard products produced after 1979 should not have problems operating on ethanol. Further, they indicate that MerCruiser products produced after 1987 should not experience problems.

However, it should be noted, there have been isolated reports of materials compatibility issues in some vintage (pre 1980) watercraft.  Ultimately, your watercraft operator’s manual should be consulted.

For more information on ethanol and your marine equipment, click here and here.

Can I use ethanol in my lawnmower?

Yes, gasoline blended with up to 10% ethanol (E10). Tests completed on lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed trimmers and blower vacs with ethanol fuels showed no engine failures, no unscheduled maintenance and good performance. Small engine manufacturers have long permitted the use of E10.

Can I use ethanol in my motorcycle?

Yes you can. It should be noted that all gasoline is designed for its primary intended use, the automobile. In fact, the standard industry specification for gasoline is titled Standard Specification for Automotive Spark Ignition Engine Fuel. Little consideration is given to the needs of the small engine manufacturer and they find themselves designing around whatever fuels are made for automotive use.

Many areas across the country successfully utilize only ethanol blended fuels year round and across all octane grades, proving that ethanol blended fuels can be used successfully in all applications. E10 is interchangeable with gasoline and virtually every gallon of gasoline sold in the U.S. today contains a percentage of ethanol up to 10%. Many motorcycles require a higher octane gasoline than regular 87 pump octane. Motorcycle manufacturers, too, have long permitted the use of E10. Check your owner’s manual to confirm your motorcycle what octane grade is required by your motorcycle.

For more information on ethanol and engines, click here.