A few tanks of gas might have cost Vickie and Tony Kyzer hundreds of dollars in repairs on their riding lawn mower and boat.
The Yukon couple blames the damage on e10 gasoline — a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent regular unleaded gasoline that is sold at most fueling stations throughout the country.
The Kyzers noticed their troubles when they took their boat and lawn mower in for regular spring maintenance.
“They called and said there were extra issues and problems because of the ethanol in the gasoline,” Vickie Kyzer said. “When my husband took his boat in, he had the same issue. The repairs were a lot more expensive than usually, especially on the boat motor.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved e10 for use in most cars and trucks, but there are more questions about boats, lawn mowers and other small engines.
Most engines OK
The Renewable Fuels Association, however, said most modern engines are designed to run properly on ethanol blends.
“Small engine manufacturers have continued to make modifications to the engine fuel systems to be compatible with ethanol-blended fuels,” association spokeswoman Dawn Moore said. “This can be seen through the collection of varying recommendations from equipment owner's manuals from over the years. These changing recommendations have led to some confusion about the selection of fuels to use in various nonautomotive applications.”
Kevin O'Connor, owner of O'Connor's Lawn and Garden in Oklahoma City, said the biggest problems he sees are with people who leave e10 in their mowers or in gas cans for extended time periods.
“It doesn't store well,” O'Connor said. “It's going to draw in moisture from the air, and when water and alcohol mix, it's more corrosive than battery acid. It eats the carburetor and rubber hoses.”
O'Connor said all the lawn mower engines he sells are rated for e10, which means they are designed to handle the additional heat produced by the ethanol blend, but that consumers should buy only as much fuel as they need for a week or two.
He recommends consumers instead use only ethanol-free gasoline in their lawn mowers and other small engines, especially before storing them for the winter.
Shortage on the way
That recommendation may soon become more difficult to follow after Sept. 15, when Tulsa-based Magellan Midstream Partners LP stops using a large pipeline to transport 87 octane gasoline because of increased renewable fuel requirements.
“Magellan is doing what our customers want us to do,” spokesman Bruce Heine said. “We're supporting their needs.
O'Connor said that while he has seen problems with ethanol and lawn mower engines, e10 can be even more problematic for two-cycle engines that require a blend of gasoline and oil.
“When you mix gas and oil, you want the oil to coat all the engine parts,” he said. “Because ethanol is a solvent, it tries to clean the parts you want coated. Ethanol also will separate the oil from the gasoline, so you need to shake it up all the time to keep it mixed.”
The Renewable Fuels Association said ethanol blended fuels can be used successfully in all applications.
The group said that most manufacturers now use materials that are “largely unaffected by properly formulated ethanol blends.”
Dave Hartman, owner of H&H Marine, said his shop regularly sees boat engines with problems related to ethanol-blended fuel.
“Everything we've read says that ethanol is a no-no for marine products,” he said. “We tell all of our customers to stay away from it.”
The biggest problems come when ethanol is left in a boat engine over the winter, Hartman said. He recommends boat owners fill their tanks with ethanol-free gasoline and add a fuel stabilizer before closing boats in for the winter.
Hartman also recommended that boaters regularly use fuel stabilizers that — among other things — remove ethanol from the fuel and engine components.
The Renewable Fuels Association said most modern boat engines are designed to run on e10 fuel.