Using Ethanol Fuels in Vintage Cars

Jaguar XK150 British Sports Car

Steve Glover/Flickr/CC BY 2.0   

People want to know if ethanol is safe for their daily driver and classic cars. Here we'll go one step further and provide solid answers about using fuel containing ethanol in a wide variety of gas burning engines.

More importantly, we'll discuss if ethanol is bad for your car and how to determine risk by usage. Learn about best practices when it comes to gassing up that classic muscle car for long-term storage. See how long properly treated fuel will last in the garage. Finally, discover the pure gas movement and how you can become a part of it.

What Is Ethanol Fuel

Ethanol is an additive used to enhance the quality of gasoline. Technically its ethyl alcohol made from renewable biological sources. In other words, things that grow, like switchgrass, grains, and corn. When blended, at a 10 percent ratio, ethanol is said to increase the octane rating of the fuel as much as three points.

The other advantage of using this additive is a natural reduction in tailpipe emissions. It's good at decreasing carbon monoxide, because of its higher oxygen content. Other beneficial qualities of alcohol are contained within ethanol. For example, alcohol has the ability to absorb water. This is why it's often the main ingredient in products that remove water from fuel.

Eliminating water reduces the chance of a fuel line freezing up in the dead of winter. It also allows naturally occurring condensation from the fuel tank to burn in the combustion chamber. They design modern automobiles to run on 10 percent blended ethanol fuel mixture. There is legislation on the table to increase this to 15 percent.

Push Back Against Ethanol

With car makers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and farmers on board the ethanol train, who would argue about the benefits the fuel provides? Two main groups have come forward to say this kind of gas is not good for the way we use it.

The boating and classic car community use fuel differently than the everyday motorist. For these hobbyists, the long-term stability of the gas they install becomes a primary concern. Car owners that use an automobile for regular transportation consume fuel at a much faster rate than hobbyists.

Blended ethanol fuels don't pose a problem until they start to separate over time. Therefore, if you want to know if ethanol is bad for your car, then think about how you use it. If you burn through a full tank in a month or two, it's not a problem. However, the longer it sits, the more the gas separates. This can cause corrosion of internal fuel system components.

In an episode of Jay Leno's garage, he detailed a list of his own classic motorized vehicles that suffered damage from using standard California pump gas in a long-term storage situation. Even ethanol producing companies won't argue the fact that E10 gas has a shelf life. They're also quick to point out that all fuels degrade over time.

Ethanol Free Pure Gas

With a long list of pitchfork grabbing people, screaming for their old-fashioned gas, a business opportunity presented itself. What if gas stations made available pure gas with no ethanol? The answer is boaters and classic car owners would buy it. In fact, the station could even charge a dollar more per gallon. Another group that benefits from the new product line is the small engine owner.

People that own chainsaws, lawnmowers and snow blowers store fuel for long periods of time to run this equipment. Gas without any ethanol, mixed with fuel stabilizers will last much longer than an ethanol mixture.

Gas Tank Fill-up Best Practices

Whether you own a classic 1967 Cadillac Eldorado Luxury Sport Coupe a Jaguar XK150 British Sports Car or a 20 foot Bayliner bowrider, you’ll want to follow a few simple rules when gassing up. Since these motorized vehicles are hobbies they can often get pushed to the back burner for long periods of time. The last time you fill the tank slips from months to years.

Therefore, every time you add fuel treat it like a long-term storage situation. Although filling of the tank with ethanol free fuel can be more expensive it can pay for itself in the long run. It’s generally recommended to install around three-quarters of a tank. This is because moisture forming from temperature differentials will collect on the uncovered surfaces.

On classic cars and boats install a fuel stabilizer product even if you think you'll burn a full tank in short order. Remember to add fuel stabilizer additive halfway through the fill-up procedure. This assures it will mix well and maximize the length of storage. Some say when they follow this procedure the fuel can last five years or more without significant degradation.