I wrote recently about the damage done to older (carburetor-fed) vehicles by the alcohol-dosed “gas” that’s pretty much replaced the real deal.
Alcohol, in addition to impairing your judgment and dulling your reflexes, also (in machinery) attracts moisture, hastening rust formation inside the fuel system. Since most older (carbureted) cars and virtually all older motorcycles have steel tanks and steel fuel lines, the formation of rust is accelerated on the inside surfaces. This can wreak havoc as the flakes slough off and are carried down the pipeline.
The second curse of ethanol is its effect on rubber and composites (seals, gaskets and o-rings) that were made when gas was still gas – and not 10 percent alcohol. When exposed to alcohol, these parts become brittle and shrink (causing leaks) and in some cases literally dissolve or chemically react in such a way that a grayish goop forms within the fuel system, eventually clogging small passages such as the orifices in needles and seats and carburetor jets. The result is a not-nice running vehicle, if it runs at all.
So – what to do?
* Avoid the stuff –
Here is a link to a web site that will tell you how to find gasoline – not 90 percent gasoline – in your area. All states are listed; click on yours to find out what’s available in yours. The upside is you should be able to find 100 percent gas in most states (in Alaska, that’s all they sell). The downside is the stations are often few – and far between.
While it might be feasible to keep your power equipment – and classic vehicles – topped off, you are limited in terms of how far you can drive by how close you are to the filling station. Still, the fact that straight gas is still available is very good news. And there is a growing backlash against ethanol – because even leaving aside problems with older vehicles, burning it will reduce your mileage in whatever vehicle you drive (including brand-new vehicles) because there is less energy content in a gallon of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gas than there is in a gallon of 100 percent gas.
Expect more real gas pumps to crop up – especially if we continue to bitch about (and boycott) the ethanol.
Ethanol “gas” does not store as well – or as long – as straight gas, so you want to avoid leaving it to age in fuel tanks or even fuel jugs. Try to buy it as you burn it. This is sometimes easier said than done in older vehicles, such as vintage cars and bikes (as well as outdoor power equipment that may sit unused for months at a time).
If at all possible, try to start/run the vehicle for at least 15 minutes at least once a month. That will help. And try to keep the fuel fresh.
Most motorcycles have a fuel tap that you can use to turn off the flow of fuel from the gas tank to the engine. When you’re done riding, turn the tap to “off” and let the engine idle until it burns up the remaining fuel in the carburetors. Then it will just stop running – and you can leave it that way for awhile without worrying about stagnant fuel in the carburetors decomposing the internals. You can do the same with a car – if you install an shut-off valve in the fuel line, ahead of the carburetor. With power equipment, your best bet is to drain their tanks and run the engine until it shuts down.
Adding fuel stabilizer to the fuel is a good idea, too.
* Make your vehicle (and equipment) compatible with the stuff –
Well, to the extent that you can. Which will be determined by your budget – or your abilities.
You can, as an example, usually buy an ethanol-compatible rebuild kit for most carburetors. The should include gaskets, o-rings, floats, needles and seats, rubber diaphragms (and so on) made to withstand modern (ethanol-spiked) fuels. Ditto fuel lines – especially the flexible rubber ones.
The biggest job – both in terms of work and expense – is making your fuel tank (and the steel lines that run from it to your carburetor – in a car, at least) less vulnerable to ethanol.
That is, to rusting out from the inside out.
The tank can be cleaned – and then sealed – using products made for this purpose. I recommend Bill Hirsch’s three-step process (see here) which will remove any accumulated gunk inside the tank, then remove/render any remaining rust inert, then coat the entire insides with a tough – and ethanol-resistant – material that sets up almost like ceramic. I have used this stuff in both motorcycle and car fuel tanks and have been very happy with the results.
With a car, you will probably still need to deal with the factory steel fuel lines, which are likely already rusting from the inside out if the vehicle is 30-plus years old and the lines are original. I recommend – when money permits – replacing the original factory-installed lines with reproduction pre-bent stainless steel lines such as those available from Fine Lines (see here) and other suppliers. These lines are made to the original patterns and are “bolt in” – but the material stands up better (and lasts longer) than ordinary steel.
Ethanol is a con, a boondoggle, a flim-flam. A con. A gyp. The one ethanol upside – that it is an octane enhancer and so allows modern cars to run higher compression ratios, which allows more powerful as well as efficient engine designs – is arguably negated by the numerous negatives, including across-the-board reductions in fuel economy due to the lower energy content of a gallon of 10 percent ethanol “gas.” Studies have also been done that strongly indicate it takes more energy to make ethanol than you end up with. And that diverting the raw materials (corn stock) has contributed to the rising cost of food.
The bottom line is, if enough of us complain about it, the market – if not politicians – ought to hear us. And respond. Anecdotally, the ethanol-free pump in my neck of the Woods is always busy.
Let’s do what we can to make them all busy.
And let ’em know we’re sick of the corn juice!
Throw it in the Woods?
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