Newsletter No 42
I’M JUST A FUEL
WHOSE INTENTIONS ARE GOOD
may have noticed there has been lots of talk about ethanol
lately. The state legislature has just passed a bill to boost the
percentage of ethanol in gasoline from ten to twenty percent, and
people are discovering the E85 pumps and experimenting with that
fuel. So, what does this mean to you? It may not mean much
unless you have one of the flex fuel cars. Right now, there
are over four million flex fuel cars on the road – and many of
the owners don’t even know they have one.
Wow. E85, flex fuel,
ethanol, what is all this stuff, and why care? It has to do
with using more of our local resources, and it has to do with better
stewardship of the environment. Let’s start with some basic
Ethanol is ethyl alcohol and can be fermented
from locally grown crops such as corn or sugar beets. The
production process is similar to the brewing of beer. In case you
didn’t know it, you have been using ethanol for several years. Any
gallon of gas you dispense from a Minnesota pump is 90% gasoline and
E85 is a gasoline/ethanol mixture composed of 15
percent gasoline, 85 percent ethanol. There are 185 gas stations
in the US where you can buy E85 – most of them in Minnesota! An
E85 pump is usually found at a “regular” gas station such as Holiday.
A flex fuel car is a car designed to be run on E85 and/or gasoline interchangeably.
Ethanol as an automotive fuel has been around for a long time – Henry Ford used it in the first production run of the Model T.
he said, any vegetable matter that can be fermented can be used as a
fuel. I hate to break this to you, but ethanol is not a modern
Ethanol is a very suitable fuel for cars,
as Ford proved, but a car needs to be designed with that in mind.
Your gasoline car will run, but not very well, on pure ethanol.
The game is to see how much ethanol can be added to gasoline
before having driveability or maintenance problems.
So why (or should) you bother? Let’s look at the “why” of
using ethanol and then we can talk about the “how”.
folks think that “if God meant us to run ethanol in our cars, he would
have put it in the ground like he did petroleum! Besides, it
takes petroleum and other energy to make ethanol, so why not just pump
the free crude out of the ground?” Well, oil isn’t really
“free”. Here is a “crude” analysis. If you take a gallon of
crude oil and make gasoline with it, you will wind up with only a
little more than a half gallon of gas to use. If you use that
same gallon of crude to grow corn and make ethanol, you will wind
up with almost two gallons of ethanol. (The extra energy came
from the sun. )
Using fuel (and other energy sources) that are
created in our local community help our local economy. There is
also a national benefit to keeping the money in the US instead of using
it to buy oil abroad.
Ethanol use addresses two
environmental concerns. First, ethanol burns cleaner than
gasoline when used as a motor fuel. So the total pollutants out
the tailpipe are lower.
The other environmental
benefit is reducing carbon emissions, which are responsible for global
climate change (also called global warming).
OH LORD, PLEASE DON’T
LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD
people are confused by the issue of carbon emissions. They say
that when we burn ethanol, it releases just as much carbon as gasoline
does. Yes, it does release similar quantities of carbon (just one
component of total vehicle emissions) as gasoline, but the devil is in
the detail, the detail of where the carbon came from.
to botany class. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
and emit oxygen as a by-product. That’s why plants are the earth’s most
wonderful air cleaners. So, the ethanol is made from corn, which
got its carbon out of the atmosphere to begin with. Therefore,
when the ethanol is burned as fuel, releasing the carbon back into the
atmosphere in the form of carbon emissions, it is really just returning
the carbons that it took away while it was growing as corn.
Well, this is extremely oversimplified, but I hope you get my
point. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, have been locked-up
in the earth for eons. Carbon released from burning fossil fuels
increases the total carbon in the atmosphere, setting the scene for
global climate change. Ethanol has very little net effect
on climate change.
Oil drilling in ANWAR may soon become a
sickening reality, due to American gasoline appetites. We need to get
serious about our very real alternative fuel cars -- hybrids, flex
fuel, and electric – while we think about the transportation of
the future. We are all aware that no single type of
today’s alternative fuel car is the ultimate solution down the line,
but they’re all a step in the right direction.
to the “how” -- how do you use ethanol? If you can dispense your
own fuel, you are already using ethanol. So far, we have seen no
driveability issues with the 90/10 gasoline/ethanol blend.
you have a flex fuel car, you can safely use the E85 fuel. Among
the cars we work on , the flex fuel vehicles are mostly the Chrysler
and Dodge minivans with the 3.3L V6 motors. Check your owner’s
manual if you are curious. Some of the flex fuel models are
listed on the main E85 web site too. (Go on-line and Google E85.)
you drive a flex fuel car and use E85, you will probably save a bit of
money on your fuel bills. You will see a decrease in your fuel
economy too, but that can be made up for by the lower pump
prices. It is perfectly safe with a flex fuel car to switch back
and forth between a tank of E85 and a tank of gasoline, and any mixture
Some people look at ethanol as such a good thing
that they want to push the limits and put extra ethanol in their
tanks. Chances are that you would not have any
trouble at all mixing thirty percent E85 with 70 percent gasoline
(which, if you will remember, already has ten percent ethanol in
it). Thirty percent E85 means your tank has about 33 to 34
percent ethanol in it. The reason I won’t endorse experimenting
with it is that the consequences could be expensive. It is
unlikely that you would do any damage to your car, because the
computers are pretty good at detecting abnormal conditions and
compensating for them. The problem is that the computers may turn
on the “check engine” light and now you are stuck having to go in to
the shop and paying to get it turned off. Not a big deal , but a
hassle and costly enough to negate quite a bit of the savings you got
at the pump.
One person I know just got done with a tank
of almost 50 percent ethanol, and had no problems at all. Their
fuel mileage went down noticeably, but the “check engine” light stayed
off and the car seemed to run the same.
If you choose to add E85
to your car, BE SURE TO TELL YOUR MECHANIC!!!!! Using E85 will
cause the computers to compensate for the lower energy content
and to add more fuel. These numbers show up when we scan
computers for codes and problems. If we don’t know that there is
a good explanation for the numbers being off we could recommend
unnecessary repair work. Ouch! If you do decide to
experiment with E85 and have anything interesting to tell me about
it, please call.
OIL, THAT IS
Last summer, a
new motor oil standard, called GF-4, was introduced into the
marketplace and endorsed by nearly all of the major
manufacturers. Its endorsement has been fought by the oil change
franchises (it’s a more expensive oil). Basically, it has many
qualities of a semi-synthetic oil. It doesn’t thicken or form
deposits so quickly, and it has improved lubricating qualities at
colder temperatures. If you’re buying engine oil, look for the
starburst design on the bottle. If you have a new car still under
manufacturer’s warranty, and you’re having the oil changed at a
franchise, ask them if they’re using the new oil. You should be
aware that some carmakers are saying that a failure to use the GF-4 oil
could void the warranty. For your information, we switched over
to the new standard last year.
IT HURTS MY MOTOR
TO FLOW SO SLOW
Toyota, Volkswagen, Audi, Saab and Volvo all have problems with
prematurely failing engines and turbos. Motors start consuming
oil at low mileage.
What’s up with that? Do our newer
cars have weaker motors than cars of twenty years ago? The answer
is a resounding “NO”.
The root cause of these prematurely
failing engines and turbos, and excessive oil consumption, is the
ludicrous oil change interval suggested by the manufacturers. I know
that some people want to take the recommendations in their owners
manual as gospel, but 10,000-mile intervals on oil changes is going to
cause engine problems in the long run. The proof of this is in
all the warranty extensions, campaigns, service bulletins and recalls;
all blaming everything but the oil change interval.
Now, how can not changing your oil often enough ruin an engine or a turbo, or cause an engine to start burning oil?
oil deteriorates over time, thickening and picking up debris. It
will coagulate into chunks and crud. Imagine the crud sticking to
the engine components and going through the turbo. At this point
in the oil’s life, it is getting sludgy and doesn’t flow very well
anymore. It has lost most of its lubricating abilities. Engines
and turbos will become oil-starved, and fail.
I really don’t
know why the manufacturers went to 10,000-mile oil changes. Maybe
they were doing free maintenance with new car purchases and didn’t want
to get stuck doing a lot of oil changes. Maybe they figure you’ll
dump the car once it gets to 60,000 miles or so, right before the
problems start showing up. They certainly had no evidence that
these newer cars could tolerate dirty oil; the evidence today proves
just the opposite.
Be advised too that many of the manufacturers
are switching over to semi-synthetic or full synthetic as the mandatory
oil. Volkswagen and Audi 1.8 turbo owners, take note: you
should be running full synthetic, and your car now requires a different
oil filter than the one specified in your owner’s manual.
with the new GF-4 oil, please get your engine oil changed every 3,000
miles or four months, whichever comes first. Synthetic users,
keep changing every 3,000 miles. Spend an extra $60 a year on
more frequent oil changes and save yourself the cost of a $6,000 engine
rebuild later down the line.
Stop in to visit us, or if you have any questions about your cars, call us at 651-635-0395.