Reader Rant: On This Ethanol-Doped “Gas” Business . . .

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Here’s the latest reader rant, along with my reply! 

Gary writes: Just had to update you, Eric. Since only a couple of weeks on non-ethanol gas, all I can say is  – wow! It is like a different car. Starts better. Used to flood and you really had to be careful starting it. I have not driven too far – only about 100 miles – but boy is that enough to calm this beast down and make it realize someone cares. I know the gas mileage is better because I have about 50 miles on it and the gas gauge is just below the full mark. Before when it was on ethanol, it would be just under 3/4 of a tank. This is great. Anything above 5.4 miles per gallon will be awesome. I never really saw a difference in changing fuels whether it being premium fuel or non ethanol fuel. But if you have a car that has a carburetor and it is not running right, switch to non-ethanol. Here is a sad thought. There are no more body on frame sedans or coupes anymore. The panther platform Fords were the last ones and that was 2011. What are you gonna do? You can buy a truck I guess.

My reply: Older cars like yours (and mine, I own a ’76 Trans Am) were built before the government began to adulterate gas and water-down its energy content with ethanol.  When you put E10 (90 percent gas, 10 percent ethanol) in the tank of a car like yours, you’re feeding it a lean fuel mixture. The only way to correct for this is to re-jet the carburetor or stop using E10 and find unadulterated gas, as you have.

Another problem with ethanol  – in older vehicles designed before it became common practice to water-down our gas with it – is that alcohol is corrosive. Cars like yours (and mine and other made before the mid-late 1980s) do not have fuel systems designed to safely handle alcohol-doused “gas.”

Steel fuel tanks and lines are vulnerable to internal corrosion – and the rust flakes will eventually flake off and go downstream, right into your  carburetor.

Rubber parts such as fuel pump diaphragms, accelerator pump cups and rubber fuel lines/filters and plastic parts such as carburetor floats not made to withstand alcohol are vulnerable to its effects. The problem can be made much worse in cars that sit for long periods of time. The deterioration of rubber/plastic parts can lead to gummed-up carburetors, fuel pump failure and other such things.

Since ethanol is becoming hard to avoid, I think it’s good policy to update your car to accommodate it.

At the very least – and assuming, of course, it hasn’t already been done – have the carburetor rebuilt with ethanol-compatible float/accelerator pump and gaskets, etc. A rebuild kit should not cost more than $100 for a four barrel carburetor. This will greatly reduce the chances of problems down the road.

While the carb is part, consider re-jetting it (richer) to take account of the leaned-out E10 fuel. Modern cars with O2 sensors and computers can self-adjust the air-fuel ratio to accommodate for fuel quality; older cars without computers like yours (and mine) cannot. The air-fuel ratio is mechanically determined by whatever size jets are in the carb. Going up one size – maybe two – will correct for the lean condition created by the ethanol-adulterated “gas” and your car will run noticeably better.

I would also consider replacing the fuel pump if it has been on the car a long time and you are unsure of its age.  I would absolutely replace it if original. Because if it is, the rubber diaphragm inside is being slowly dissolved by ethanol and the pump will fail. Since new pumps are cheap – should be $40 or so – and the new pump will be ethanol compatible  – this is cheap preventive maintenance.

I’ve gone the extra mile and replaced my gas tank and steel lines with stainless – which you may also want to consider doing at some point as well.

My real worry is that even more adulterated “gas” is coming. The new car industry is pushing for it – because ethanol is an octane enhancer and they want to make very high-compression engines standard equipment, for fuel efficiency compliance reasons – and the government is pushing for it because it’s a sop to the “renewable fuels” cartel (corn lobby) and also because it will accelerate the retirement of cars like yours and mine.

E15 and higher will be catastrophic to our cars. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t happen.

PS: Your car ought to be getting closer to 10-12 MPG, so I suspect something’s not quite right. It might just need a tune-up but – given its age and unless you’ve had work done within say the past 10 years or so – I would be checking the exhaust system and in particular the catalytic converter. If it is original, replace it. Do it now (Arnold voice). Those things were horribly restrictive when new  and if yours is still original, it is almost certainly at least partially clogged. A new/high-flow converter (and a tune) might just double your car’s mileage!

. . .

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  1. Thanks Eric
    Glad you are there.
    P.S. I ordered another EGR spacer for the 1986 Mustang GT. Could not put that one in because when they made the replacement, it is larger and is in the way of the idle control valve that is attached to the throttle body. Fortunately my mechanic got the old one to work with a new gasket. That’s 2 down and now on to the 04 Town Car intake manifold and front end work on my 05 Grand Marquis. Better than drinking. Cheers!

    • Hi Gary,

      You can use aftermarket replacements; they do not have to be exactly the same size/shape as the originals.

      Any muffler shop should be able to help you. Keep us posted!


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