Tests Show E15 Use May Harm Fuel Systems In Millions Of Vehicles

Published in the April 2013 Issue April 2013 Bill Bush, API

Washington — Use of the ethanol gasoline blend E15 may endanger fuel systems in millions of 2001 and newer vehicles, Bob Greco, American Petroleum Institute (API) Director of Downstream and Industry Operations, told reporters, citing newly completed research by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), an organization created and supported by the oil and auto industries. Greco, who said the fuel system failures could lead to vehicle breakdowns, also cited CRC research completed last year that found E15 could damage valve and valve seat engine parts in vehicles. 

“The additional E15 testing, completed this month, has identified an elevated incidence of fuel pump failures, fuel system component swelling and impairment of fuel measurement systems in some of the vehicles tested,” Greco said. “E15 could cause erratic and misleading fuel gauge readings or cause faulty check engine light illuminations. It also could cause critical components to break and stop fuel flow to the engine. Failure of these components could result in breakdowns that leave consumers stranded on busy roads and highways. Fuel system component problems did not develop in the CRC tests when either E10 or E0 was used. It is difficult to precisely calculate how many vehicles E15 could harm. That depends on how widely it is used and other factors. But given the kinds of vehicles tested, it is safe to say that millions could be impacted.” 

Greco continued, “In 2010 and 2011, EPA gave the green light to use E15—the 15 percent ethanol gasoline blend—in model-year-2001-and-later cars and some other vehicles. EPA’s action was irresponsible. EPA knew E15 vehicle testing was ongoing but decided not to wait for the results. Why did EPA move forward prematurely? Part of the answer may be the need to raise the permissible concentration level of ethanol so that greater volumes could be used, as required by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Most gasoline sold today is an E10 blend, but rising volume requirements under the law can’t be met much longer without going to higher blends. When Congress passed the law, it could not know it was creating this problem. Today we know. The answer is to repeal the RFS before it puts millions of vehicles and many motorists at risk.”  

Greco said that automobile manufacturers have told Congress that vehicle warranties will not cover damage due to E15 and that half of all retail station equipment in the country is incompatible with E15, according to a thorough  analysis of government and independent research conducted for API.

“There are other serious potential problems related to EPA’s decision to force E15 into the marketplace,” Greco said. “First, E15 could harm engines for which EPA did not intend it to be used. EPA said it was illegal to use E15 in pre-2001 vehicles or in other internal combustion engines in heavy-duty trucks and buses, motorcycles, in recreational equipment such as boats and snowmobiles or in various kinds of agricultural and yard equipment such as chainsaws and weedwhackers. However, segregating fuels and educating or warning consumers not to use E15 in these other vehicles and engines will be costly and difficult. And despite best efforts, some misfueling will likely occur and could cause damage.”

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