Can't Afford a New Flex Fuel Car? There May Be Another Option

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We just received the following email from John K, reprinted with permission:

I thought about this a lot, and realized I will never be in a position financially to buy a new vehicle to enjoy flex fuel, but I found out there are flex fuel conversion kits.

Forgive me if I got these links from you. Once I started searching, I learned so much from so many sources, that I have forgotten whether you provided the initial idea, or if I found out about kits elsewhere.

This technology is all so new that there is a lack of reviews from the mainstream sources we normally trust for our auto technology news, but White Lightening seems to be the main kit out there with the best reputation and lowest price. It also seems the developer is well-connected with the real world in Brazil's flex fuel auto program.

Of course, I also noted with interest your post yesterday about regular non-flex fuel cars sometimes also getting better fuel economy. The main reason I've always been told that I cannot use ethanol in my car is because fuel system plastics and rubbers have to be chosen for alcohol resistance and because the oxygen content of alcohol puts it beyond the ability of fuel injection computers to compensate, and if you have a carburetor, there's nothing at all you can do unless you rejet to run exclusively on ethanol, though I did find your video link to Henry Ford's flex fuel Model T very interesting with its manually-controlled and adjustable variable mixture carburetor jet and manually-controlled distributor advance.

White Lightening solves the mixture issue by adding an auxiliary circuit board that increases the fuel injector pulse so it stays open longer. Then the car's onboard computer is able to reduce the flow when regular gasoline is used. They say this only works on modern cars with an OBD II compliant ECU computer. Their website says that they encourage questions, so I wrote them a letter to ask about their experience with rubbers and plastics, and also whether the car's OBD II ECU is capable of advancing the timing, or whether we are essentially running alcohol on a gasoline ignition advance curve. After seeing their website encourage questions, I was very disappointed to receive no response.

But the issue of rubbers and plastics, and potential engine damage by ethanol in non-flex fuel cars is thoroughly addressed in this web page at Ohio Bio Systems.

The second frame has a video showing a tear-down of a non-flex fuel Chevy Tahoe owned by an ethanol industry executive who ran it on E85 for over 100,000 miles. The video interviews the technician who did the tear-down and discusses the various components of the engine and fuel system as the camera shows them. No ethanol related damage was found, and the plastic parts actually looked better than the the ones in gasoline cars. The additional frames analyzes and compares the part numbers in flex fuel vehicles and their corresponding non-flex fuel versions and finds that in some cases 100% of the part numbers are the same, and at most in other cases only 3 or 4% of the part numbers are different. And even in these cases, in some years and models, the part numbers are the same, but then different in a different year.

So I might try asking a White Lightening vendor the same questions the manufacturer would not answer for me. E85 is still 400 miles away for me, but E20 has just arrived in town, so I might take a chance and see if my car will tolerate it. I hope it doesn't cost me in damage and repairs to my plastic and rubber components. My 1998 Hyundai Accent owners manual says my car can use gasohol, but I'm sure that's only talking about the lower ethanol content gasohol 91 and 95 octanes that were available at that time. Plus I'm a little worried that plastic and rubber in an older car like mine might be more prone to breakdown than in a newer car.

All for now,


Editor's note: If you have any experience with converting a car to a flex fuel vehicle or in using ethanol in a non-flex fuel car, please leave a comment or email us. We'd love to hear about it.

Editor's update: There have been further developments. Read about them here: Experimenting With Alcohol.


Johnny B,  September 5, 2012 at 7:23 AM  

Modern OBD-2 vehicles should automatically adjust for up to E35 without any running issues. I have tried this with Honda, VW, Jeep, Subaru & Chevrolet vehicles from 02+ (First year of ethanol blending). I experience < 5-10% drop in mileage.

I have also used a plug in conversion kit to run E85. While it does drive flawlessly around town, I was not satisfied with its fueling under hard acceleration. The engine does not receive the additional ~30% fuel that is required, and tends to run around 15% lean. For long periods of time and lead footing, this could lead to engine failure. For 99% of your drive, it's a cheap & easy way to convert to E85. Shame the boxes can't change the timing to really get the most out of E85.

Freedom through choice at the pumps!

Jim,  September 6, 2012 at 11:37 PM  

John, I too have used E30 in both a 1997 Ford and a 2007 Volvo without any problems whatsoever. My mileage change is negligible.

I converted my Volvo using a Fuel Flex International kit(White Lightning is apparently out of business) made specifically for the car. I have been using E85 exclusively for the past 2500 miles. I did have to adjust the kit so that the car's fuel would not "run lean". It now works perfectly. I do have access to E 85 in my local community. I notice a 10-20% drop in mileage since I have been running exclusive E85.

I have been running E85 since the conversion for a few reasons. One, the potential security of our country by supporting Americans and creating jobs. Secondly, the E85 has less pollutants as it is vegetable based. Lastly, our national security by not having to buy as much oil from the Middle Eastern countries which do not like the US. Oh yeah, it is cheaper as well.

The real price of a gallon of gas when you take all things considered is estimated to be (in early 2000 dollars) between $5-$15/gallon when you potentially subtract tax benefits to oil companies and what we pay to keep our troops in the Middle East to protect our oil interests. Read "Energy Victory" by Robert Zubrin for other important information.

We need Fuel choice now and then can use whatever fuel is the best. Options are important whether it is cellulosic ethanol, methanol, butanol or anything else or a combination of all of them.

Watch "Freedom" by Josh Tickell as well!

Ann Cruze November 3, 2012 at 3:21 AM  

I know that flex fuels are the fuels that can be run by a special conversion engine using more than one kind of fuel.But i never knew that car kits can be converted to make use of these fuels. Thanks for the post as i got to know something new.

Abe Shackleton November 3, 2012 at 11:33 AM  

You're welcome, Ann. It's a very simple device that fools the fuel injector so it adds a little extra fuel.

Stevan Piescic May 30, 2015 at 1:32 PM  

Any OBD2 vehicle can directly use ethanol, methanol or gasoline with a software update to your obd2 compliant computer that is your car. The movie PUMP revealed this fact and other facts such as how South America chose to go oil free and all their cars can run on any mixture of the three and because of this they use the unusable parts of a plant to make the fuel and have extra feed for their animals and cleaner environment.

There is a car manufacture that programmed their cars computer to Not run so good when an OIL COMPANIES FUEL is not used. To make you think its not as good as the regular gas you have been buying.

Zenny August 19, 2015 at 9:36 AM  

great post, thanks for sharing

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