Q&A with Kit Foster: October 11, 2012

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Q. I was at a local car show recently talking with a member of the local Model T club. I asked if they add lead to their fuel in addition to stabilizer. He mentioned that it was his understanding that lead was not added to gasoline until after World War II, so they don’t bother adding lead to their fuel and felt that I shouldn’t have to for our 1930 Hupmobile. Can you confirm if this is true about lead not being added to gasoline until after WWII, and if so is there any advice on when to add a lead additive to today’s gasoline? Due to all the hype about gasohol, I have started to purchase gasoline without ethanol for use in our Hupmobile, my string trimmer and my lawnmower. My Craftsman string trimmer actually says not to use gasohol, but when I first purchased it only gasohol was available locally. My string trimmer now runs much better without the ethanol.

— Bob Arper, via e-mail

A. Actually, lead began to be added to gasoline in the late 1920s, in order to permit higher compression (by eliminating knock) and thus greater efficiency. However, lead tended to leave deposits in the engine, particularly on valve seats, so spring tension was increased to chip away at the lead. This lessened the need to open up an engine for a valve job, but in the 1930s, it was still expected that an engine might have two or three such procedures in its lifetime. With better metallurgy, the valve job gradually faded into obscurity.

With the advent of catalytic converters in the 1970s, lead was phased out, as it contaminated the platinum inside the converters. There was widespread fear that old cars would start experiencing valve problems without the lead, due to valve seat recession and general lack of lubrication that the lead is said to have provided. The remedy is hardened valve seats and valves of stouter metal, such as Stellite. However, these problems occur mostly under sustained hard use, to which collector cars are seldom subjected. There are lead substitutes available, but it’s my feeling that they really aren’t needed unless, for example, your car has 10 to 1 compression and you drive it flat out most of the time. At the typical mileage driven by a collector car, it will take many years before you experience any problems attributable to the lack of lead. You can drive your Hupmobile on unleaded gas without fear. A lead substitute is unlikely to hurt your car, but I don’t think it needs it, either. In fact, it is not so much what isn’t in gasoline that poses a threat to your car — it’s the ethanol that is contained in the fuel. You’ve read a lot about ethanol problems in recent issues of OCW. Don’t get complacent, though. There’s more to come.


Q. I read in a local newspaper that in June the EPA approved the use of 15 percent ethanol in gasoline, up from 10 percent now. In order to keep up with the EPA’s “Renewable Fuel Standard Mandate” the annual production of ethanol will increase from 15.2 billion gallons this year to 36 billion in 2022. It appears that the amount of ethanol in a gallon of gas will be much more than 15 percent in a few years. I’ve had no problem with 10 percent after some carburetor parts and fuel lines were replaced, but what will happen when 15 percent or higher ethanol comes along? Will our cars run very well on that type of fuel?

— T.C. Loftin. Lawton, Okla.

A. You’re correct, the E-15 approval seems to have been upheld. This is based on the assertion that it will work satisfactorily in post-2000 cars, presumably because of better materials and computer control. But no, E-15 will not be good for our collector cars. You’ve read about the E-10 horror stories in recent Q&A columns. With E-15, I think you can add 50 percent to your troubles. Since there are still many pre-2001 cars on the road, gasoline with less than 15 percent ethanol will have to be provided for some years, as leaded gas was in the late 1970s. Be sure to read the labels on all gas pumps. If it says E-15, or “contains 15 percent alcohol,” don’t put it in your old car. If you can find gas without ethanol, use it. In some areas of the country, E-10 is already the only choice available, in which case you need to consider upgrading fuel hoses and carburetor parts.
With all the discussion about storing vehicles and keeping fuel fresh in cars that are seldom driven, I have to wondering how collectors with large fleets do it. The collection managers I’ve talked to say they maintain their own fuel depots, with leaded, alcohol-free gas. They also use stabilizers for cars that are not run very often. Alcohol-free gas is probably impractical for most hobbyists in areas where E-10 is the norm, so our defense has to be vigilance at the pump and use of the appropriate fuel treatments, many of which you’ve read about here.

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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