Boats, motorcycles, lawn mowers, and a host of other products are experiencing mechanical damage, gasoline leaks, and fires.

The cause? Ethanol, and it’s probably in your gasoline now.

These and other problems with ethanol fuel are increasing as its use in American gasoline supplies increases. We’ll discuss how it effects different gas powered products below, but first, let’s take a closer look at ethanol.



Ethanol in the U.S. is distilled primarily from fermented corn. It’s the same process used to make hard liquor. It can be burned in properly equipped engines and it’s use as a gasoline supplement in the U.S. is growing dramatically.

Ethanol is now being used as a replacement for the anti-knock compound MTBE . Small amounts of ethanol will soon be found in most gasoline sold in the U.S.

Some engines can run the new gasoline blends just fine. But others are having big problems.


One of the main problems with ethanol fuel mixes is that the ethanol component of the mix can attack rubber seals in fuel systems and other engine components.

Ethanol mechanical problems can also lead to dangerous, highly flammable fuel leaks, which is one reason why you’re not supposed to put E85 ethanol in the fuel tank of your car unless it is properly equipped.

We may soon find blends with 10% ethanol in most of the gasoline we buy.

Minnesota’s E-10 ethanol mandate requires 10% ethanol in all of its automotive fuel supplies. Montana and Hawaii have also passed E-10 ethanol fuel use legislation and a number of other states are in the process of introducing similar mandates.

Gasohol, or E10 ethanol, is a mixture of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol. It is often sold as a higher-octane fuel. In addition to boosting octane levels, this mixture also helps reduce oil imports.

But consumers want to know if ethanol is safe at 10% concentrations or less.

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The Minnesota Renewable Energy FAQ page states that, “E-10 is warranted by every automaker that sells vehicles in the U.S.” But they don’t say what model years and makes are involved. They also plan to increase the mandate to 20% ethanol in the next few years.

U.S. Department of Energy Ethanol Information also states that, “Auto manufacturers also approve the use of low-level blends because they work well in gasoline engines and create no noticeable difference in vehicle performance.”

But, what are you supposed to do if you don’t own a later model car, or if you’re simply worried about problems with ethanol fuel even in E10 or lower ratio blends?

Consult your owner’s manual to see if your car can safely burn gasohol or any ethanol containing fuel mix. If you’re not sure, ask a dealer who carries the make and model of car you drive. If you have a reliable mechanic, you can also ask if any fuel system or other alterations are needed to prevent ethanol mechanical problems.



Boat owners are having a boatload of ethanol mechanical problems. The problems include plugged fuel filters, fuel leaks (and fires resulting from the leaks), fiberglass gas tank failures, and ruined engines.

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a boater’s alert detailing problems with ethanol fuel in Boating Safety Circular 85 . Refer to ‘Pain in the Gas’ starting on page 6.

A 1987 “Amendment to Fuel System Standard” found on the last page, left column of USCG Boating Safety Circular 73 is also relevant to the use of ethanol products in marine fuel systems.

And the Know Before You Go page from the State of Hawaii Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation details a simple, reliable test procedure to determine if your gasoline contains ethanol.

Does your marina carry ethanol free gasoline? Some do, some don’t. You need to ask. Savvy marina owners know the difference between ethanol and MTBE. Both are used as octane boosters.

For boaters, the most important difference is that all gasoline-powered boats can handle MTBE, but only a few can handle ethanol without problems. Outboard Wizard details the kinds of ethanol related mechanical problems people are having with outboard motors. It also has solutions for outboard owners and a number of useful links for all boaters.

You can prevent major boating problems with ethanol fuel mixes by taking action. Check your boat owner’s manual and talk to your dealer, reliable boat mechanics, and your marina operators to find out just where you stand.

Action now can save thousands later, and it could save your life.



Though research is underway to advance the use of ethanol in aircraft, its use is forbidden as set forth in this U.S. Federal Aviation Agency 2006 Airworthiness Bulletin . The FAA expressly forbids the use of any ethanol containing fuel.

The only American aircraft allowed to use any ethanol bearing fuel are experimental aircraft licensed for such use. Otherwise ETHANOL USE IN U.S. AIRCRAFT IS FORBIDDEN!



We’ve touched on the effects of ethanol on the three major travel mediums, land, water, and air. But we use an array of gasoline burning products including motorcycles, ATVs, farm tractors, lawn mowers, and much more.

Ethanol is in the process of mixing into virtually all U.S. gasoline supplies. As discussed in the ‘Ethanol and Your Boat’ section, there are serious problems with ethanol fuel mixes in engines that haven’t been designed to accommodate it.

Can we expect to have problems with all of our gasoline consuming products similar to those boaters are experiencing?

A quick way to find out is with a search engine.


Enter a term such as ‘Ethanol motorcycle repairs’ or ‘Ethanol lawn mower repairs’. When you use ‘Ethanol ________repairs’ for your keyword search you’ll get resources that dial right in to the product of concern.


The only sure way to avoid ethanol mechanical problems in your gasoline-powered products is to check your owner’s manual and check with the dealer. Ask about the effect of ethanol on engines, fuel tanks, fuel lines, fuel system seals, fuel filters, and other engine components. Different products will be affected in different ways.

Taking action now can save a lot of money and grief later.


More ethanol information at Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass

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