from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

Whoever first said “no good deed shall go unpunished” was joking but sadly today it’s true and might go; some #*$@ crook will abuse every good idea.

Truth is, we all better get off our lazy butts and work toward reducing foreign oil dependency and pollution. Haven’t started yet? Today would be the perfect time, just be careful how you do it because many drivers who are trying to improve our environment are getting seriously screwed-over.

In the U.S. we have four primary types of fuel: basic gasoline, diesel, E-10 and E-85. Here we’re only concerned with E-10 and E-85. Ubiquitous E-10 is 10% ethanol mixed with 90% gasoline and helps reduce vehicle emissions. E-10 is safe to use in virtually all vehicles. E-85 is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline and is becoming more common. Although E-85 is a great way to help the environment and cut oil imports it can damage some vehicles. Because of its high percentage of ethanol E-85 can only be used in an FFV, Flex Fuel Vehicle. If your car isn’t an FFV, never use E-85!

E-85 is a good idea but scam-artists are using it to cheat drivers. These thieves-without-guns advertise cheap E-85 conversion kits aimed straight at drivers who are trying to improve the environment. For instance the Internet and many green publications are loaded with clever ‘green-sounding’ ads. So clever that even if you know they’re bogus some are so well written you’ll question what you know. These ads toy with our basic desires by promising big mileage and performance improvements and cleaner air with E-85. Cleaner air is possible but mileage and performance could drop by 15% or more. Although environmentally better those great sounding gadgets will not allow your car to safely run on E-85. The scam artists also claim their gimmicks are government and vehicle manufacturer approved but they lie. Their approval claims are 99% bogus plus there is no practical way to covert most Non-Flex-Fuel vehicles into Flex Fuel vehicles.

To better understand the differences between flex and non-flex fuel vehicles I talked with engineers at GM. They supplied me with a list of parts GM considers mandatory to make a car E-85 compatible and it’s daunting. E-85 is corrosive so that’s the first issue that must be dealt with. E-85 corrosion prevention begins with a special fuel fill pipe that also includes safety items like a flame arrester and an anti-siphon valve. These are connected to an E-85 compatible fuel tank; basic steel terne-metal is not acceptable as it corrodes when exposed to E-85. Next your car will burn about 20% more E-85 than E-10 so you may need a bigger fuel pump to handle the extra load. Also due to E-85 corrosion issues in-tank wiring, the gas gauge unit, fuel lines and filters have to be ethanol tolerant.

Then the engine will need a new stainless-steel fuel rail plus higher volume and E-85 compatible fuel injectors. Also because ethanol can damage conventional engine valves and valve seats the cylinder heads and possibly other internal parts will have to be changed. Finally E-85 burns differently than gasoline or E-10 so the car’s computer will need two operating systems, one for E-85 and another for gasoline. And for the computer to know which program to use there has to be a fuel identifier sensor. Yipe!

The sad part is that in trying to be green you spend several hundred dollars for a bogus kit and still more having it installed. Although you may have actually slightly reduced emissions from your tailpipe; non-compatible parts inevitably, prematurely fail. On that fateful day your engine starts to misbehave and warning lights blaze. The diagnosis is major fuel system damage or engine damage or both and you’re facing a huge repair bill. So if your car is not Flex Fuel don’t be taken-in by flex fuel conversion kit crooks, be greener by being a better driver.