Mechanics

Flex Fuel

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Designed as an alcohol fuel mixture this form of fuel is different from most others. E85 contains a much higher percentage of denatured fuel ethanol, hydrocarbon, and even regular gasoline. As the name implies the solution contains as much as 85% of the fuel ethanol. One major drawback to E85 is the vehicle must be modified in order to actually handle running this fuel. Several manufactures sell vehicles capable of using both E85 and regular gasoline, they are known as "Flex-Fuel" vehicles. They contain sensors that test the fuel to determine what is in the tank, and the computer adjusts the engine management system from there.

Recent statistics have estimated that in the United States alone there are approximately 1,900 gas stations that are selling the E85 ethanol to the public. However, other countries in North America such as Canada are lacking in the expanded usage with only three Canadian stations selling the fuel to the public. Other countries such as Sweden and various other European countries have already widely embraced the usage. Engines are designed to handle any form of fuel ranging from standard gasoline to 85% ethanol. In order to handle the conversion there are several adjustments that must be made including changes to the fuel lines, the fuel pump and the rest of the fuel system.

Common Problems and Solutions

The biggest problem and concern that E85 ethanol creates is the fact that in a world where gas mileage is very important it generates approximately 25% fewer miles per gallon than traditional fuel. While many vehicles are looking for ways to break 30 MPG effectively and even as much as 60 MPG when using hybrid vehicles this can seem like a huge step backwards. However, while E85 ethanol fuel provides fewer miles per gallon it is cheaper per gallon by approximately 10% around the world. As research continues, it is estimated that the new fuel mixture will lower the price per gallon to make it much more competitive with standard gasoline. However, at this point because of the dramatic loss in mileage combined with only a small reduction in price it is more expensive to use E85 ethanol on a per mile basis.

Maintenance

Overall, E85 ethanol has no special considerations necessary for extra maintenance. As you would need to change a fuel filter on a standard gasoline vehicle it is still required on a flex fuel vehicle. Never allow a mechanic shop that is inexperienced in E85 ethanol systems to do the service on your vehicle. There are significant differences in the E85 fuel system from a conventional fuel system that could cause potential problems. Keeping your E85 ethanol flex fuel vehicle running in top condition is as important as a conventional fuel vehicle. 

If further technical assistance is needed, our certified car repair technicians are ready to answer your car questions.

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AUTHOR


Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of 2CarPros.com
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published (Updated 2013-08-18)