E85 oops

Steering You Right With Sharon Peters

Q: A few of our local gas outlets added E85 gas to their pumps. I worry that we’re going to wind up accidentally putting some of that into one of our cars, which aren’t outfitted to accept that stuff. Why don’t they put that gas and the gas hose into a completely different pumping unit, instead of on one side of the same unit where you get the regular gas? Do you ever worry about making a mistake? And really, what would happen we did accidentally put that gas into our car?

A: E85 fuel, a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol, is said to be more environmentally friendly than conventional gasoline, and more fuel stations are selling it all of the time.

As you point out, the vast majority of E85 dealers sell it from a pumping station that also dispenses regular gasoline (though there is a different hose and different underground holding tank for the E85). There’s a strong possibility that as the number of E85 vehicles increases and demand for E85 fuel increases, there will be separate pumps in more locales.

In the meantime, they’re trying to keep consumers from pumping the wrong fuel by doing two things: the hose and nozzle for the E85 fuel are, in all the ones I’ve seen, a bright yellow that’s pretty hard to miss, and there’s a sign by the nozzle that warns consumers that what flows out of this hose is not gasoline. Some even require verification via a prompt on the electronic screen, which makes you confirm before you begin to pump that you want E85.

So, what would happen in the event of an accidental fill-up of E85 in a vehicle not constructed to use it? Most experts say you’d be dealing with some short-term unhappiness, but it’s highly unlikely it would cause permanent damage.

The engine would not be getting the proper mixture and therefore insufficient energy, so the check engine light would almost certainly come on, to let you know the vehicle is in some distress, and most vehicles would (if you could get them to start) run pretty poorly.

Many experts recommend immediately draining the fuel tank in this kind of situation and refilling it with gasoline (which, of course, you’d kind of have to do if the car won’t start); some say if it’s running, even poorly, don’t worry too much, just add some gasoline when you can and it’ll be fine.

I tend to be super cautious when it comes to vehicles, so if I made such an error, I’d drain it immediately rather than driving it around on a diet lacking sufficient nutrients.

When all is said and done, although most say a one-time mistake won’t wreck the engine, they caution you to try to avoid winding up in that situation.

© CTW Features

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving, repairing and making the most of your vehicle. Send your questions to sharon@ctwfeatures.com.

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