PhotoThe Environmental Protection Agency’s decision last week to pave the way for the sale of gasoline blended with up to 15 percent ethanol is likely to prove a nightmare for car owners who improperly fuel their gas tanks, the Environmental Working Group warns.

The EPA took its action even though every major automaker has warned that millions of vehicle warranties will be voided if drivers fill up with E15.

If the EPA proceeds, it means consumers will pull into gas stations that could have as many as four pumps with different kinds of fuel:

  • one for E10 (up to 10 percent ethanol); 
  • one for E15; 
  • possibly one for E85 (between 70 and 85 percent ethanol); and 
  • maybe one for old-fashioned gasoline.

Some stations will also have diesel and natural gas, although they use different-sized nozzles to help eliminate fueling errors.

The EPA intends to approve E15 only for vehicles manufactured after 2000. But some gas station pumps may not even have labels specifying which ethanol blend is which, because not every state requires them.

Extremely confusing

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Ethanol

"It is going to be extremely confusing and dangerous for consumers," said Sheila Karpf, a legislative analyst at the Environmental Working Group. "If they make a mistake and put E15 into an older car or small engine, there's a good chance they'll ruin their engine and the manufacturer's warranty won't cover the damage."

To advance consumer safety, EWG analysts have created an Ethanol Blends Guide and Fact Sheet to help drivers choose the right fuel for their vehicles. The analysis provides more information about the new E15 label requirements.

Ethanol is more corrosive and burns hotter than gasoline, properties that could cause some engines to stall, misfire and overheat. Fuel with higher ethanol blends emits more nitrous oxide and formaldehyde than gasoline, lowers mileage and damages fuel tanks and pumps.

"Instead of approving a fuel that will pose health and safety hazards and damage engines, the U.S. should invest in energy efficiency measures and research and development for truly sustainable biofuels," said Karpf. "The high cost of replacing or repairing engines will be tacked onto corn ethanol's other costs -- including higher food prices, increased soil erosion and polluted water supplies."

Stick with E10 or regular

To be safe, EWG recommends that consumers stick with E10 or regular unleaded gasoline if they can find it. If gas pumps are not labeled, consumers should ask a service station employee for more information about the fuel and the amount of ethanol it contains. Consumers should check with their engine manufacturers or mechanics to find out if their cars or small engines can safely run on E15 or other ethanol blends.

Here are other tips for consumers to cut the economic and environmental costs of driving:

  • Maintain your vehicle properly: 
    - Keep tires inflated to the recommended pressure.
    - Use the right grade of motor oil (check the manual).
    - Replace air filters when you change oil (your engine will run more efficiently).
    - Replace worn spark plugs.
    - Repair leaks from engine oil or other fluids.
  • Drive the speed limit and don't accelerate too fast or brake too hard.
  • Minimize air conditioner use.
  • Turn your engine off when idling for long periods.
  • Get rid of excess weight in your vehicle.
  • Drive less.
  • Walk, run, or bike.

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