Q&A with Kit Foster: July 12, 2012

Publish date:

Q. Regarding the May 10 Q&A, Mr. Rosenberg should avoid using E85 in his ’92 Coupe deVille. In fact, unless a vehicle owner’s manual specifically says that it is OK to use, E85 should not be used. Use of E85 in a modern fuel-injected vehicle often results in driveability issues, due to the lower energy content of E85. To cite a specific example: I once worked in a Cadillac dealership where we had a circa-2004 de Ville with a check engine light and diagnostic trouble codes for “system too lean.” It was determined that the owner had filled with E85 —we drained the tank and refilled with regular gasoline, and the issue was resolved.

E85 in a gas tank is considered so likely to cause “system too lean” issues that not only is this taught in most automotive training classes, but I recall seeing it as a question on an ASE certification test. Perhaps Mr. Rosenberg has confused E85 with E15. I would expect that he would not have any issues directly related to the E15. However, I have seen posters and other information at my local marina in regards to engine concerns caused by E15, specifically the ethanol’s ability to attract and hold water. If Mr. Rosenberg doesn’t drive his Cadillac often, or his fuel system isn’t sealed (rusty tank, faulty gas cap) and the car sits in a high-humidity environment, he may have an issue with accumulation of water in his tank.

Matt Walz, Grass Lake, Mich.

A. I agree it was probably E15 that Mr. Rosenberg meant. E85 requires a vehicle designed and built to so-called “Flex Fuel” standards. This requires constant automatic adjustment to adapt to any blend of fuel from zero to 85 percent ethanol, a tall order. My understanding is that the U.S. EPA has authorized the sale of E15 for 2001-and-newer vehicles, but it is not yet widely available because of concerns on what it could do in pre-2001 cars, many of which are still on the roads. It will behoove us all, however, to take notice of the pump labels before fueling any old car. E15 might just show up when you least expect it. And in high-humidity environments, E15 will only exacerbate the problem of phase separation.


Q. In response to your ethanol Q&A in the Mar. 1 issue, I have some facts that may help on some ethanol questions. I work for Sea Foam Sales in Eden Prairie, Minn. I have been in the automotive repair business since 1971 and am an ASE-certified auto mechanic for longer than I’d like to admit. Working for Sea Foam for the last 3-1/2 years and being an lifelong avid drag racer and mechanic, I have learned more about fuels, oils and diesel fuels than I thought was humanly possible.

Storage and fuel stabilization have been hot button subjects since we have been forced to use unleaded ethanol-blended fuels. I will share some major points about using and storing vehicles using this type of fuel.

Ethanol-blended fuel can collect or absorb moisture until the ethanol or alcohol reaches its saturation point. When ethanol reaches its saturation point, which is 3.8 teaspoons of moisture per gallon of fuel, the moisture can cause the ethanol and moisture to separate from the fuel. This is known as phase separation. When this happens, it can cause major drivability problems, no-starts and even engine damage. When the fuel reaches phase separation it must be drained and disposed of. To prevent this you can do a couple of things when storing your vehicle. First, store the vehicle with a stabilizer, such as Sea Foam, added to the fuel and make sure the fuel tank is full, to prevent condensation from temperature changes, and in a vented system to keep oxygen out, since ethanol can absorb moisture from the atmosphere. Also make sure your stabilizer will help control moisture. This will help protect your fuel from becoming contaminated with moisture. The product I represent (Sea Foam) does this. Some alcohol, such as ethanol, will absorb moisture and some alcohol (propanol) emulsifies moisture, breaks it down and aids in the evaporation process, keeping the moisture from pooling or collecting, dispersing it throughout the fuel and making it a non-issue.

Jim Davis, Technical Service Director, Sea Foam Sales Co., Eden Prairie, Minn.

A. Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise. Lest we appear to be promoting Sea Foam, as opposed to any other fuel stabilizer, competing manufacturers are welcome to share their perspectives on the problem, particularly with regard to phase separation, which seems to be the major problem with ethanol-blend fuels. Mr. Davis doesn’t specifically say so, but seems to imply that propanol in Sea Foam helps to emulsify moisture, thereby avoiding phase separation. I have read that 2-propanol, also known as isopropyl alcohol, is the main ingredient in gas line antifreeze, whose main purpose is to absorb water that would otherwise freeze in cold weather.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail angelo.vanbogart@fwmedia.com or mail to: Q&A, c/o Angelo Van Bogart, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

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