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An Interesting Article by Jay Leno on Ethanol


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By Jay Leno, Autoweek, March 4, 2015

 

Can't we just get rid of ethanol?

 

 

There have been a lot of old-car fires lately. I went through the ’70s, the ’80s and most of the ’90s without ever having read much about car fires. Suddenly, they are happening all over the place. Here’s one reason: The ethanol in modern gasoline—about 10 percent in many states—is so corrosive, it eats through either the fuel-pump diaphragm, old rubber fuel lines or a pot metal part, then leaks out on a hot engine … and ka-bloooooie!!!

 

As someone who collects old cars, and keeps them up religiously, I am now replacing fuel-pressure regulators every 12 to 18 months. New cars are equipped with fuel lines that are resistant to ethanol damage, but with older cars, the worst can happen—you’re going down the road, and suddenly your car is on fire.

 

There’s more. I find that gasoline, which used to last about a year and a half or two years, is pretty much done after a month or so these days. If I run a car from the teens or ’20s and fill it up with modern fuel, then it sits for more than two months, I often can’t get it to start.

 

Ethanol will absorb water from ambient air. In a modern vehicle, with a sealed fuel system, ethanol fuel has a harder time picking up water from the air. But in a vintage car, the water content of fuel can rise, causing corrosion and inhibiting combustion.

 

It gets worse. Ethanol is a solvent that can loosen the sludge, varnish and dirt that accumulate in a fuel tank. That mixture can clog fuel lines and block carburetor jets.

 

Blame the Renewable Fuel Standard. This government-mandated rule requires certain amounts of ethanol and other biofuels be blended with gasoline and diesel fuel. But when Congress first passed RFS as part of the Energy Policy Act in 2005, our demand for energy was increasing. Today, it’s the opposite. Total demand for fuel has decreased thanks to more-efficient vehicles, more hybrids and increased environmental awareness. The EPA is set to release the 2015 standard in June. Meanwhile, some legislators are pushing to reform or eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard entirely.

 

I just don’t see the need for ethanol. I understand the theory—these giant agri-business companies can process corn, add the resulting blend to gasoline and we’ll be using and importing less gasoline. But they say this diversion of the corn supply is negatively affecting food prices, and the ethanol-spiked gas we’re forced to buy is really awful.

 

The big growers of corn have sold us a bill of goods. Some people are making a lot of money because of ethanol. But as they divert production from food to fuel, food prices inevitably will rise. Now, if you don’t mind paying $10 for a tortilla ...

 

Last week, I went to start up one of my Duesenbergs. When I pulled out of the spot where it had been parked for about a month, I saw a huge pool of gas. I looked at it while it was running and saw gas just pouring out. “OK,
I’ve got to buy another fuel regulator.” I pulled it out and opened it up. The fiber diaphragm was eaten right through. Should manufacturers make diaphragms for old cars out of modern materials like Viton or Teflon? Yes, they should, but not all of them do. Consequently, your chances of a fire remain.

 

Here’s another problem: When you have vehicles with fuel cells in their gas tanks, ethanol tends to eat the coating out of the fuel cell. If you have an old motorcycle and redo the fuel tank, the first thing you do is seal the tank with some sealant. It’s generally a cream or a gray color, and it looks like you painted the inside of the tank. On a lot of my bikes now, I’ll open the gas tank and I’ll go in with a long set of tweezers. I’m pulling out sheets of this coating. Really, it comes out in 6-inch strips.

 

The ethanol is just eating it up and clogging the fuel pump because it’ll move around as a sheet of material and block the opening. With cars like my McLaren F1, if I buy a 55-gallon drum of VP racing gas, the fuel cell will last twice as long.

 

It’s time for us as automobile enthusiasts to dig in our heels and start writing to our congressmen and senators about the Renewable Fuel Standard, or we’ll be forced to use even more ethanol. Most people assume, “Oh, that’ll never happen. They’ll never do that.” Remember prohibition? In 1920, all the saloons were closed. It took until 1933 before legal liquor came back.

 

Most people don’t really look at what goes into their car. Obviously, the days of high-octane gas like Sunoco 260 are long gone. Those of us with older vehicles are the ones who end up paying the price. The car manufacturers don’t care. They don’t mind if your vintage car burns up or breaks down. They want to sell you a new one. It’s hard for enthusiasts. We really have nowhere to go.

 

So write those letters, but I also suggest you drain and clean your old car’s fuel tank, use a quality fuel-tank sealer that’s impervious to ethanol, replace fuel filters, keep all the screens clear and use a fuel stabilizer (added to a full fuel tank), if your car is to be stored for the winter season.

 

Oh, and keep a fire extinguisher handy.

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Dear 'Jay',

 

Why do you have a (fuel) pressure regulator in the first place?  The only reason I can think of is because you have an electric fuel pump added to your classic cars also.

 

I too have seen classic car fires (2) that were fuel related in the recent past, both were caused by electric fuel pumps that were added to the vehicles.  Both caused significant damage to both cars (not mine).  Here's your real problem.

 

An electric fuel pump cannot be regulated to a low enough pressure to match the very low pressure of a (in the case of the two fires I saw) Stewart Warner vacuum fuel pump.  These SW pumps generate about 18 inches of 'head' which for gasoline calculates to about 1/3 of a psi.  Most electric fuel pumps run in the range of 6 psi and I've not seen a regulator that can run below 3 psi.  Combine that with a carburetor than was designed with a float system that can only manage 1/3 psi and you get a carburetor that runs over with fuel in the bowl and out the vent.  Even if the carburetor needle is updated to a modern viton tip, the float volume and float arm moment and resultant sealing force created are still not enough to seal the pressure that is 9 to 18 times the design pressure for the carburetor.

 

Solve your real issue which is, return to the original fuel pump design and pressure.  I've not touched my factory SW pump in 19 years and +20,000 miles.  They were designed to function in terrible conditions of the day and they did, well.

 

Not sure what you sealed/coated the inside of your fuel tanks with.  Gas Tank Re-Nu did mine (4 cars) and I've never had an issue in over 20 years and my cars sit all Winter with no break down of fuel or sealant in Michigan.  I do use Stabil during the Winter.  I can look right into my Buick's tank and have.  Clean as can be.  We have 10% Ethanol in Michigan and my carb. bowl is clear and my copper fuel lines are fine too.  I have no 'rubber' hose in my system and even if I did, today's hose is all Ethanol compatible.

 

The next comment will be from someone on 'vapor lock' and RVP (Reed Vapor Pressure) and the need for higher fuel pressure to correct this.  While higher line pressure will help with vapor lock, so will some basic heat shielding and fuel line insulation.  Even Buick moved the SW pump mounting position off the hot exhaust manifold it 1923 to the fire wall in 1924 to help with this. 

 

Not going to touch the Ethanol/Farmer issue.  Farmers work hard 24/7 and they are going to grow or raise what pays.  Any time we pay people to grow something to create false demand (or pay people to stay home so they have no incentive to work) I get a bit upset, o.k. pissed.  But I am all for Ethanol by the glass.  Jim Beam works fine, (Makers Mark if you're buying).

 

But, thank you (really) for all you do for the hobby.  Your collection and Garage Show are great.  Hope you correct your issue so you and your cars are around long enough to enjoy each other for years to come.

Edited by Brian_Heil (see edit history)
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I am trying to interpret Mark's permission statement above. Does it mean each person needs to obtain permission from Jay to reprint or that Jay Leno has given blanket permission to all to reprint the Autoweek article?

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I think the is a Good article. But I feel that I can't trust going to the local Gas Station here in Alabama and pumping what the Pump Says to be NON- Ethanol Fuel. I also feel bad for Paying a Higher Price for a Fuel with out something added and wondering is Really NON - Ethanol or Not ? I was in South Alabama not long ago and found what they Called Boat Gas and also wondering the same thing and or they just Charging me a higher Price for the same old Ethanol added gas.

Thanks

Bud

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Crain Communications Inc, the parent company for Autoweek, has a blanket copyright on "all content" in the magazine. The copyright is listed on the contents page near the front of the magazine. One can request reprint information by calling their Customer Service Department.

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  • 4 years later...

It's real easy to get the ethanol out of 10% E gas. Just buy 4 gallons and pour it into a glass 5 gallon bottle so you can see inside. Add a gallon of water and shake the 5 gallon mixture for 10 seconds. All the ethanol will go into the water component and settle to the bottom. 

 

10% of 4 gallons is 0.4 gallons, and you will find that after the 5 gallon mix separates out, you will now have 3.6 gallons of pure gasoline and 1.4 gallons of water/ethanol mix.

 

Using a 3/8 inch vinyl tube, syphon the water/EtOH mix off the bottom just like racking wine. To make it easy, attach one end of the vinyl tube to a 2 or 3 foot length of rigid PVC tube to go to the bottom of the bottle. As the water EtOH mix is syphons out, tip the bottle to one side to get the last drops of water/EtOH off the bottom corner of the bottle.

 

Homebrew supply stores sell 5 gallon glass bottles, vinyl hose, and pvc racking tubes to rack it out.

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Terry:

 I believe we discussed this. AV gas is much higher octane. I had a problem with my 1937 Buick when I tried to always find Non-Ethanol stations. Unfortunately they usually only stocked 91-93 octane in non ethanol. Still not close to what was called High Octane in1970. Anything less than 98 octane and my 1969 Buick 350 4 bbl would detonate badly. That was in 1974. The Pennzoil station that I pumped gas at in 1974 had their HI-TEST as 104 octane. (These were still tetra-ethel lead fuels. My 1937 specified an octane rating of 70 at that time (different rating systems) but the 87 octane fuel is much better than the "a little better than Kerosene" that was used in our 1920s cars. Our vapor lock problems today in our carburetor equipped cars is because modern fuel is lighter, more volatile and hence has a lower boiling point. I still have hot starting problems on my 37 since after a short run the fuel boils out of the carb bowl.

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There are more problems with ethanol fuel than have been mentioned here! Startification with small temp changes is another. When the golf courses had large fuel tanks filled the ethanol and gasoline was at least somewhat homogenized. Water and alcohol mix well but not with gas. Temps rising or falling cause the fuel and alcohol to seperate. When fuel was pumped from the tanks whatever water and alcohol that separated was the first thing pumped into the small equipment tanks. Guess how well they ran! Talk about eating up carb inards, Wow! Early versions of tank sealant kits were not alcohol resistant. In fact that alcohol was used as a recommended cleanup solvent when installing!

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Yes Avgas is alcohol free. The 100LL (low lead) does have lead in it (0.5 grams per liter) it is 100 octane it is blue in color (the dye used for the blue tint is; 1) so pilots can see that it may be leaking 2) more importantly is to be sure that it is not Jet A or Jet B as piston engine will not run very long on Jet fuel. There is also 100 octane that is dyed green. There used to be a 80 octane that was dyed Red no longer available these days.

 

Avgas is blended to run in large bore and long stroke type low RPM engines. Your engine most likely run a bit hotter with Avgas but the fuel will burn more evenly and the little bit of lead in the fuel would be helpful with the older engines that were designed when gas had lead in it.

Edited by RatFink255 (see edit history)
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Good article, but "Get rid of Ethanol so I can run my Duesenberg safely" isn't exactly the rousing call to action that will inspire any legislator to propose changes to fuel. 

 

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

The only problem with avgas is being able to get it.   Avgas 100LL is ok.    I used to fly back when 80 octane gas was available.    It had 1/4 the quantity of lead in it.   Ie, modern 100 LL has 4 times the lead of the old ‘red’ 80 octane.   Enough of that,  we have serious problems getting getting plaine ole regular gas WITHOUT ETHANOL.    The further north you go (I live in the south) the fewer gas station have non-ethanol fuel is available.     “Purrgas

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Sorry, finger slipped.    The web site “Puregas.com”. Will let you know who has it.    I set out on a trip to northern Indiana,  (I’m in Tampa / St. Pete Fl.)  and I was able to find real regular gas without ethanol poisoning my car.   I had to plan my gas stops to get good gas but it works.    It was like when I used to fly and needed to plan my flight on fuel stops.    My ‘38’ let’s me drive about 160 miles between refueling.    Your mileage will vary.    I have over drive installed so I get ~16 mpg at 65 mph.   I always leave myself with 3 gallons left in my tank when I refuel - - JIC  my planned gas station was out.    BTW,  the web site gives you phone numbers so you can call ahead.    Yes,  I’m a bit paranoid but I enjoy driving by ‘38’ on long trips - isn’t that why they built good cars ?   

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