Putting E85 in a Gas-Only Car

Saturday, March 23, 2013

We recently tried it in our car and succeeded. Click here to read why we wanted to burn E85 in our car. This is what happened:

We'd read the letter by John Kolak on using E85 in regular cars, and then we read Marc Rauch's response. Rauch describes his ongoing experiments with E85 in non-flex-fuel vehicles (which you can read here). And we also read about Robert Zubrin's experiments with methanol and his discovery that non-flex fuel cars already have the components to be flex fuel cars.

But we were still skeptical and didn't want anything bad to happen to our beloved 2001 Prius, so we bought a conversion kit and installed it (which you can read about here).

In order to fix an unrelated problem with our car, we took off the conversion kit (temporarily, we thought) but in the process, we broke one of the conversion kit's plugs. So we decided to gather up some courage and try E85 without a kit just to see what would happen. We were watching David Blume's video where he says he once mentioned on a national talk show that anyone could put E85 in their regular car, and immediately the petroleum industry made it mandatory for all gas stations to put stickers on their E85 pumps warning people not to put E85 into non-flex-fuel cars. Watch Blume's video here. Blume's reassurance that you can put E85 into any car (and that it's perfectly legal) was the final straw for us.

We decided to do it. We thought we'd try it in stages. So first we waited until our tank was pretty empty and put in one gallon of E85. By our calculations, that meant we were running on 33% alcohol. We figured if there was a problem, we had plenty of room in the tank to fill up with regular gasoline and dilute the ethanol enough to stop whatever problem it was causing. But we didn't have any problems. We couldn't even tell the difference. Our 2001 Prius was successfully burning E33! This was encouraging.

The next phase of our experiment was to let the tank empty out some more. Then we put in three gallons of E85. By our calculations that made it E70 (70% ethanol in the tank). We still had enough room to add four more gallons of regular gasoline if there was a problem, which would have brought it back down to about E30, and we already knew the car could handle that.

But again, there was no problem. We couldn't tell any difference. The car was running perfectly! We drove around quite a bit, using up most of the tank. Everything was going smoothly.

This was great. Then we embarked on a 500-mile trip and on our way out of town, we filled up with E85, which put us at probably E80 or so. While we were at the station, we looked carefully at the little warning sticker. It said we should check with the clerk before putting E85 in our car. So we went in to see what the clerk would say. He said the warning was on there because E85 can damage engines. "Where did you hear that?" we asked. "The tow truck guy told me," he said, "apparently it burns too hot or something."

We straightened him out. Alcohol burns cooler than gasoline.

Anyway, with our tank full of E85, we drove up over the Cascade Mountains (in Washington State). No problems. The only thing that seemed different is that the car had a little more power than we were used to. This is not surprising. They use ethanol in the Indianapolis 500 because it is safer but also because it can give a car more horsepower (it's a higher-octane fuel).

Other than that, we couldn't tell any difference. So our non-flex-fuel Prius went up a long grade to a high elevation burning E80 with no problems. This was incredible. We were so happy. John Kolak and Marc Rauch and David Blume were right!

After about 90 miles, we stopped at a rest area and when we got back on the road, the engine light came on.

Uh oh.

But we already knew this was a possibility. Rauch said he has put straight E85 into many cars and in some of them, the engine light came on. Our car kept running fine. There wasn't really a problem. But the O2 sensor was detecting fewer emissions than expected, and the car's computer thought something must be wrong.

Rauch said he took his car into a shop and had them check why the engine light was on (without telling them he was burning E85). They told him his O2 sensor was broken. He said thanks, drove away, filled up on straight gasoline and after awhile, the engine light went off. He took the car to the shop again, told them the engine light was coming on intermittently and had them check it out. Nothing was wrong now. The sensor had healed! Not really. It was never broken in the first place.

So we decided on our trip to drive the Prius for awhile with the engine light on. The car ran perfectly. When it was time to fill up, we put in one gallon of regular gasoline to see if that would make the light go off. Apparently that wasn't enough. So we filled up on regular gasoline. Still the light stayed on. We thought we were going to have to take it to the shop to get it reset or something.

But before we headed for home, the light went off and has been off since!

Now we think we'll just burn E85 all the time and let the engine light shine like a badge of courage. We took a risk and discovered we can immediately stop sending our fuel dollars to OPEC and we can give it instead to American farmers and American workers where it can do some good for our economy and our air quality (ethanol produces fewer emissions that cause health problems).

Maybe once in awhile when we get nervous about it, we will fill the tank with gasoline just to see the engine light go off again. But then again, maybe not. It feels too good to fill our tank with freedom.

Read more: Burning E85 Without a Conversion Kit.

19 comments:

Anonymous,  March 24, 2013 at 8:22 AM  

My 1998 Toyota Tacoma’s engine light is intermittently on and off. Repair shops have not been able to correct this. When it's on I get 28 miles per gallon city and when it's off I get 26 miles per gallon city. This has proved true for over a two-year period. It kind of makes you think, doesn't it?

If E85 improves power in the tested Prius, then I wonder how the Prius would perform with Envirolene, the new, high octane, mixed alcohol fuel developed by Bioroot Energy. Check out another fuel produced with methane (or any conceivable organic feedstock) that otherwise would have been flared: http://www.biorootenergy.com/

In all probability, Envirolene will be a major player in achieving fuel freedom.

Adam for Fuel Competition March 24, 2013 at 2:18 PM  

So you're burning Envirolene and it makes your fuel light come on? Why do you think your mpg changes?

John Kolak,  March 24, 2013 at 10:13 PM  

As David Blume said, any car on the market can run at least 50% E85. I was cautious and also ran my tank to near empty and put just a half tank in to start. I let it idle 10 minutes while I went into the store to buy a few things so I could see if the car had any problem with E85.

It is not a good idea to let the check engine light stay on all the time. I shared my results at a Chevy forum, and one of the members recommended installing a digital "Super Guage" that displays all the engine faults so you can see if anything else is going on besides the E85 detection.

Anonymous,  April 2, 2013 at 9:33 AM  

Unless you want to increase repair costs to your vehicle, I would not recommend doing this. In engines not designed for E85, the fuel does not harm your engine immediately as is implied. However, Ethanol is more corrosive than Gasoline. A short term test as you have done, you will not notice many problems. The problems creep up in long term reliability of the vehicle as seals and other parts corrode away.

Adam for Fuel Competition April 2, 2013 at 11:48 AM  

We looked into that extensively. The auto industry's warnings and oil industry's propaganda doesn't hold up in the real world. Brazil has been using ethanol in their cars for 30 years and they do not have problems. And who makes their cars? Ford, GM, Honda, Toyota, etc.

Follow some of the links and look at the data. Rauch has been burning it in his non-flex fuel car for YEARS. The video was with a car that had driven over a hundred thousand miles. What you're saying about ethanol's corrosiveness is an old propaganda line the oil industry has been using since the early 1900's. It's nonsense as they well know. But what are they going to do? As soon as we have fuel competition, their hundred year party is over.

Adam for Fuel Competition April 2, 2013 at 11:54 AM  

For seventy years, lead was put in gasoline to prevent it from knocking. In 1987, lead was outlawed because it is toxic. A better way to prevent knocking is to add ethanol. It isn't toxic and it has very high octane. And because of its high oxygen content, it not only burns cleaner, but it helps the gasoline burn more completely, lowering the pollution output of the burned gasoline.

Anyway, because it was a law to put ethanol in gasoline, cars built after 1991 or so have fuel lines that are ethanol compatible. They no longer use rubber seals (ethanol dries out rubber) or rubber hoses.

Anonymous,  April 5, 2013 at 10:46 AM  

You can read a paper that I wrote that explains (for non-technical people) exactly how a non-FFV reacts to high ethanol fuel blends; how and where it adapts and where it does not adapt. The paper also explains why your check engine light (CEL) comes on and what this means (it is an artifact of the OBD2 system required on all cars). The paper is posted at:

http://www.liquidsunenergy.com/learning/ppt/ice.pdf

This paper specifically avoids making any recommendations. It is for information and understanding only. I have also posted a paper by John Kolak that contains his thoughts and recommendations:

http://www.liquidsunenergy.com/learning/ppt/Ethanol_Recommendations.pdf

I hope that this information is helpful. Enjoy.
Bob Glicksman (bob@liquidsunenergy.com)

Anonymous,  December 17, 2013 at 3:02 PM  

You can find the following information at this link http://www.gpreinc.com/Ethanol-Timeline The marketing of commercial alcohol-blended fuels began by the Amoco Oil Company, followed by Ashland, Chevron, Beacon, and Texaco.
About $1 billion eventually went to biomass-related projects from the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriation Act.

Anonymous,  April 29, 2014 at 9:41 AM  

I was in a gas station in Hungry (the Country) yestetday evening and filledup with E85 by mistake. The attendant took my money then said it wss a huge mistake and if I ran it would ruin my engine in 15/20 miles, bit, he knee a service guy who could come and remove the E85 and replace with regular.
I looked online, found these entries snd drove my 2007 Chrysler 300 off the pumps and returned to Bulgaria. An 8 hour drive.
My engine light came on and was off this morning.

Thank you everyone here.

Gary Rowlands
Bulgaria

Adam Khan April 29, 2014 at 11:43 AM  

You're welcome Gary. It probably cleaned some gunk out of your fuel system too.

Anonymous,  October 6, 2014 at 9:02 PM  

you are very wrong. I have been running e85 on my 94 tercel with a 5efe turbo motor for close to 100,000 miles and have had zero problems with fuel. my exhaust is even clean from running this. so do not say e85 ruins an engine or it's fuel lines or seals unless you have with your own two eyes and hands dealt with said problem. thank you

bobbylight141 January 2, 2015 at 10:18 AM  

I ran e85 in my 2013 Chevy sonic turbo for 10k miles then I had two pistons crack in half due to the fuel. Do not run it in your car unless it's built for it. E85 also burns dirtier and gets less mpgs

Adam Khan January 2, 2015 at 2:02 PM  

E85 burns much cleaner than gasoline. Alcohol fuel leaves almost no residue when burned. Gasoline leaves significant residue. Look up demonstrations on YouTube. After running 100,000 miles on engines burning ethanol, the engine still looks new because there is no black carbon buildup like there is with gasoline.

It also doesn't seem likely that a fuel that burns COOLER (E85) is the likely cause of a cracked piston.

Anonymous,  January 25, 2015 at 11:12 AM  

Thanks for the post! A few weeks ago my wife accidently put 2g of E85 in our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid. The result was the "check emission system" light came on until our next tank of regular gas. However it cured a "shudder" that had been occurring for 70k miles whenever it was shut of with the gas engine!! That vehicle has 3 catalytic converters -- cleaned out a clog somewhere and has been driving much better and quieter since!!

Mopar mafia July 6, 2015 at 11:10 PM  

I Drive a 2009 Dodge Caliber SXT 2.0 motor and started putting e85 ethanol in the car first time I did it and ran 2 gallons of regular gas and the rest e85 the car ran fine did the same thing the next time I filled up third time I filled up with straight e85 no mix and the following day when I start the car up and it started sputtering didn't want to really start right away take 3 times a crank it and it started right up it been doing it after filling up with straight e85 but once its going it runs really good

Zlavigne August 25, 2015 at 2:48 PM  

E85 burns cleaner than regular gasoline.

Scott,  September 22, 2015 at 8:55 PM  

Overall a good article, but a fair amount of misinformation.

"There wasn't really a problem. But the O2 sensor was detecting fewer emissions than expected, and the car's computer thought something must be wrong."

Doubtful, what's more likely is the computer was detecting a lean condition in open loop operation. When you press on the throttle enough, the computer goes from relying on feedback from the oxygen to pre-determined mixture tables. Since you need more ethanol to attain a stoichiometric (optimum) mixture than you do for gas, you are running lean in open loop and the computer tells you that. It is a problem, and it's more than likely why one of the commenters cracked a piston.

"We straightened him out. Alcohol burns cooler than gasoline."

When tuned for it yes, go back to the open loop explanation above. When not designed for it, the car will run lean on e85, and that will make it run much hotter.

"The only thing that seemed different is that the car had a little more power than we were used to. This is not surprising. They use ethanol in the Indianapolis 500 because it is safer but also because it can give a car more horsepower (it's a higher-octane fuel)."

Two things could have been happening here. Driving on a significant grade, you most certainly went in to open loop and your mixture was too lean. To a certain extent, a leaner mixture will make more power.

Beyond that, your understanding of octane is unfortunate. Putting higher octane in a motor designed for it is throwing money away and will not result in higher performance. To benefit from higher octane you need to up compression or run more timing. You did neither.

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