Reader Question: Escaping Ethanol?

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

Air-cooled Dave writes:  Are we ever going to get rid of this nasty fuel w/ethanol?

I’m trying to find a source for non-ethanol gasoline in California. No luck so far. Oh, except for Lowe’s. It is $20 a gallon. What kind of a joke is that? Interestingly where I sometimes live in Hawaii, I can get non-ethanol fuel even at Costco and it is a couple of points better in octane than regular stupid gas. Costs maybe $0.10 a gal more. I use it over there exclusively.  Now a couple of my friends in CA have seemed to find that premium fuel when mixed w/oil in their chain saws is better than the regular junk. I don’t know, but solutions for this situation seem to be elusive and expensive.

Here is another issue that probably does not make sense. One of the things that I do is restore antique farm tractors – 1940s mostly. These old engines do not like the new Newsom gas at all. Wondering if maybe premium would help? But these areretty low compression engines.

My reply: There is a web site (click here) that will tell you where to find 100 percent gasoline (as opposed to 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol) in your state. It looks like there are stations in CA that sell ethanol-free gasoline; hopefully, one of them is close to you.

As for getting rid of it: That will take getting rid of the mandate – the Renewable Fuels Standard – which forces ethanol into the fuel supply. Will this ever happen? I doubt it – because of the political power of the agribusiness cartels that hold sway over both parties. There is big money involved. They have it – and we don’t. And money drives politics in this corrupted country.

But, we can at least still buy real gas . . . for now.

As regards your tractors: I doubt premium (high octane) fuel will help; in fact, it might hurt. Not mechanically but just in terms of how they run. As you probably know, octane is basically a measure of a fuel’s ability to resist pressure and heat; to not prematurely ignite within the cylinder. High compression engines need high octane fuel for this reason. If the fuel lights off because of heat and pressure before it’s supposed to (by spark) with the piston still traveling upward on the compression stroke, mechanical damage can ensue.

But in a low compression engine, no such problems. However, the fuel will cost you more and it may not light off as readily in a very low compression engine, which will lead to not-optimal power/performance (though no worries about mechanical damage).

Your old tractors also need lead, baby.  Unless they have been rebuilt with hardened seats and such to deal with unleaded fuel. If not, I’d consider using additive – or just buying a drum of leaded fuel for these specialty vehicles, which I assume aren’t used much except to play with.

. . .

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  1. Back in the day when propane was always much cheaper than gasoline, a lot of people had propane power as well as gasoline. GM began putting hardened valve seats in their pickups in the 60’s and a Chevy would go forever running propane.

    My dad worked for a place that had a top cat who had a BIL in the propane bidness and a buddy with a Ford dealership(just died a few days ago). The local mechanic shop loved the fact they used Ford only trucks cause he’d commonly have half a dozen of them in his lot waiting for valve jobs.

    The mechanic loved it and I can see his point. Once the top guy retired and was replaced, the company took bids for trucks and they began using 4WD as they always should have but you couldn’t get a Ford 4WD and if you did, it stayed in the shop. Once most of their small trucks were GM and larger trucks they’d never used were diesels, the shop costs went down to a huge degree. GM could take the propane fine and then they phased out the propane systems. I have one of their old tanks I use with my weed burner. I probably shouldn’t even use it for fuel now. It was made in the 50’s.

  2. Don’t forget 100LL at your local general aviation airport. It’s 100 octane, (low) leaded, and zero ethanol.

    It generally runs $5+ per gallon, but for small engines and tractors, it’s cheaper than a rebuild.

  3. I have a problem with escaping methane….. Well, not really a problem- more of an amusement……. Seems to happen a lot in Walmart, or when I used to visit libraries.

  4. It’s probable your old tractors have a craptastic chamber design and/or poor quench compared to a modern engine, thus more likely to ping. Lead additive is a good idea that will also slightly increase octane, not to mention protecting the valve seats. Premium fuel may or may not help, but it’s not expensive to try. If you’re going to try it I recommend shell v-power (with or without ethanol), it’s the best pump premium (for knock reduction/elimination) I have found.


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