Political expediency does not equate to sound technological principles. Put another way… does anyone think ethanol as an additive to gasoline was/is a good thing? Besides farm lobbies and shortsighted bureaucrats, that is? As we will see, it wasn’t and isn’t a workable solution to anything it was proposed to be when it was rammed down our metaphoric throats… and literally forced into our fuel fillers. We should all know by now that so-called “oxygenated” fuels are a mediocre, stopgap, knee-jerk amelioration of nonexistent problems, at best. They should be banned immediately! Chances are it won’t happen… thanks to the curious fact that most consumers see ethanol as harmless and the complacent powers that be don’t have any better ideas and suffer excessive inertia.
As if to underscore the shaky nature of ethanol as gas additive, the piston-engine aircraft industry rejected it outright from day one. The inherent drawbacks were unacceptable in vehicles that might fall from the sky as a result of its use. Getting away with such a rejection speaks volumes about the validity of specified downsides of alcohol in gasoline.
But before we get into those specifics, how about a quick overview of the generalities? Those alone should be enough to make you go, “Hmm?” (I’ll assume you are already aware of the original government “pitch.”)
Strike one: a 10-percent alcohol content in gas reduces fuel efficiency (and often power) rather than improving it.
Strike two: it does not reduce pollution and actually increases it, as the EPA had to admit in front of justices presiding over the Third Circuit Court of Appeals back in 1995.
Strike three: “fracking” controversies aside, for now, the reality is there is no shortage of oil or fuel in this country and it’s cheap! In fact, we are on the verge of unrestricted exporting of our surplus petroleum for the first time in nearly four decades.
With three strikes against it, not to mention the expensive practice of subsidizing corn growers lurking in the shadowy background, why isn’t it “out?”
I submit there is no outrage on the part of motorists at large; no umpire in a rigged game. Because anyone with a late model four- or two-wheeler, especially one that’s driven regularly, doesn’t suffer or care, yet!
Outrage is left to those of us who love and keep “occasional use,” and “classic” or “seasonal” vehicles, particularly boats and motorcycles, because we know better and suffer greatly! The boating and watercraft fraternity leads on the subject with more data, disasters, dissent and plain old experience with gasohol problems than we bikers have. Studying their findings is revealing, instructive, irritating and not a little discouraging! First off, boats don’t sink when gasohol screws things up, so they, like us, aren’t “airplane exempt.” We are stuck with fuel that has an outrageous affinity for separating into globs of water and alcohol in a very short time—too short to be left in tanks during the off season, when the vast majority are laid up for months. (If that sounds familiar to bikers who cannot ride year round, then keep reading; you’ll really be able to relate!)
Woe betide the poor sucker who has to make a choice between draining a tank during a damp cold winter and hoping no rust gets in there or leaving gasohol in it, with its huge potential for the same outcome, only worse! That’s one major issue that can be partly remedied by using additive products like STA-BIL, Star Tron, Seafoam and others, which claim prevention and protection during long-term storage. Yet, even though they help, they ultimately only delay the inevitable. Smug types with gas tanks that are factory “coated” may think they dodged this rust bullet (for a time, until trade-in) but it ain’t necessarily so and there are other issues besides rust that seriously affect running conditions.
Namely, what can happen to rubber parts in the fuel delivery system! The alcohol part of separated gas can dry, crack and deform seals, hoses and other stuff critical to the operation. Almost a given for older machines and worth suspecting even from EFI systems on Harleys over two or three years old. (IMHO, the brisk sales of in-tank feed and return hoses over the years suggest that the factory didn’t initially have ethanol-proof versions available.) Additional issues with alcohol that’s free to flow through the fuel system range from corrosion in throttle bodies, carb bodies and alloy fuel tanks (in case anyone has one, like my friend Paul) to the need for re-jetting and timing adjustments on older machines. Don’t just take my word for it; look it up!
Oh, it also swells plastic tanks by as much as 5 percent even while still in suspension in the fuel; take note, V-Rod owners. If you try to use a fiberglass tank on that chopper you wanna build, or own an old bike that came with one, gasohol will soften and dissolve the resin, neatly gumming up not only the fuel system but the engine internals! (As you can imagine, it is also a very bad thing to have alcohol or water circulating through the insides of any engine, old or new, yet gasohol can and will “phase separate” in as little as two or three weeks to accomplish just that!) That’s been the worst of it for older fiberglass boats with tanks molded of the same stuff. Either spend a mint on new tankage or rebuilding engines all the time; sucks, huh? Come down to it, as a biker, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a carb slide stick open because of fuel “residue” buildup. Thank goodness most hogs run carbs or TB’s using butterflies—less likely to kill ya. Thing is, not all that residue stays in the carb or TB, know what I’m mean? And intake valves, for example, don’t like it one bit!
The potential for anything from nuisance to disaster eventually befalling users of ethanol-oxygenated gasoline is pathetic enough! But it’s the mind-boggling reality that there is precisely zero scientific evidence that it does any good, that there has been no “official” acknowledgment (let alone testing) of ethanol’s destructive capabilities, that the EPA is considering “doubling down” on this dumbass plan by phasing in E15, and that we pick up the tab for the whole debacle (as well as our own resulting repairs). It’s insane.
The only sane question is, when will it cease being unreasonable and become unacceptable?
Until that day dawns, hereabouts on these pages are some random but relevant steps and suggestions, intended to help your motorcycle withstand the ravages of alcohol abuse or poisoning, as the case may be.
Precautions/Tips For Use of E10 (Ethanol) Gasohol
Gasohol is mediocre as fresh fuel, but in the interests of full disclosure, ethanol burns more effi ciently than gasoline,
has a higher octane rating, and a higher fl ame speed, but from what I understand, a lower specifi c energy (energy
per unit mass—gasoline is around 46 MJ/kg, and I believe ethanol is around 30 MJ/kg). The real problem, however, is
that its hygroscopic (water-absorbing) qualities and willingness to “phase separate” into gas, alcohol and water in short
periods of time makes it potentially very harmful to fuel systems, engines and components (particularly fuel tanks).
1. Test gas for alcohol presence and to assure it is below the legal limit of 10 percent.
Gas alcohol levels above 10 percent can cause major damage to many engines. The percent of ethanol found at
individual gas pumps varies and changes daily with each gasoline delivery. Ethanol is usually added by the local fuel
distributors/suppliers, not at the major gas-brand company refi neries.
(Inexpensive portable fuel test kits that check presence of water and alcohol in gas are available… and worthwhile.)
2. Replace the gas in your fuel tank at least every two to three weeks.
The shelf life of E-10 gas is only three months (90–100 days) under ideal environmental conditions. Areas of high
humidity cut that timeframe signifi cantly!
3. Know the specifi c fuel laws for your state.
Many states still do not require the labeling of E10 gas at the pumps. View state ethanol labeling laws. www.fueltesters.
4. Check your owner’s manual for fuel type recommended.
Older engines (prior to about 1998) and several other vehicles (e.g. marine, lawn equipment and more) do not permit
the use of alcohol fuels. Engines that require higher octane-grade fuels often experience drivability problems and parts
damage from the use of E10 gas.
5. Prevent external water and moisture (high humidity) from coming in contact with E-10 gas!
Gas cap seals/gaskets and improper venting are major contributors to condensation inside fuel tanks… there are other
external factors as well. “Keep your powder dry,” folks!
6. Ethanol-blend fuels will lower mpg in most engines; fuel effi ciency can decrease by 2–40 percent. Maintain your
engine and fuel-delivery components to provide the best possible fuel effi ciency. (Infl ate tires, keep tuned, etc. as
well.) Research information on fuel effi ciency and tuning requirements of E-10 gas when used used in older, infrequently-
7. Chose an octane level above 89 for an added level of security when purchasing E-10 gas.
If water contaminates (WC) your gas, the fuel will dilute and the octane level can drop up to four points.
8. Avoid all fuel additives and fuel system treatment products that contain ethanol or are alcohol based.
Most octane boosters and fuel system cleansers contain alcohol. Fuel system “storage” additives and conditioners usually
do not. Don’t confuse them and read the labels!
9. Become familiar with symptoms and effects of “bad gas,” often caused by too-high alcohol levels of gas. Symptoms
include varied malfunctions such as stalling, hesitation, smoke released from exhaust, clogged fuel fi lters and carburetors,
damage to fuel pumps, pistons and injectors, disintegration and dissolving of engine parts (especially rubber and
plastic), drying out of parts (hoses), and more.
10. Contaminated gas cannot be restored to the original composition. No miracle product or ingredient exists that will
completely prevent all water absorption or safely repair phase-separated (PS) gas. In other words, get all you can use,
but use all you get… quickly.
11. Frequently check gasoline tank for signs of Water Contamination (WC) and Phase Separation (PS). Fuel samples
placed in a transparent fuel-proof container will visually show two or three distinct layers after WC and PS occur.
12. Check engine manufacturer warranty for details and consequences of alcohol fuel use. Most engine warranties
exclude repairs caused by the use of fuel containing over 10-percent ethanol or water contamination.
13. Install a water-separator fi lter (10 micron or better). Easier said than done on motorcycles, since these devices tend to be bulky. A worthwhile preventative all the same.