E15 Is Coming & AAA Ain't Happy; New Fuel Could Void Warranties

Follow Richard

E15 infographic from SmarterFuelFuture.org

E15 infographic from SmarterFuelFuture.org

Enlarge Photo

There's a lot of talk nowadays about renewable energy and energy independence. One product of such chatter is a new blend of gasoline called E15, but not everyone is happy to see it coming down the pipeline.

Ethanol is a common additive in gasoline, thanks in large part to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (PDF). Today, it's found primarily in two fuel forms: gasoline blends of up to 10% ethanol (known as E10), which can be used in most modern vehicles, and E85, which is 85% ethanol and can be used only in specially designated cars and trucks.

The Energy Independence and Security Act mandated that the U.S. gradually increase its production of biofuels, from 4.7 billion gallons per year in 2007 to 36 billion gallons per year in 2020. The Act set specific targets for different types of biofuel (e.g. "renewable fuel", "advanced biofuel", "cellulosic biofuel", etc.), and to help meet those goals, the Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a new ethanol blend: E15.

As you might imagine, E15 consists of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. Fans of ethanol laud it because it further reduces tailpipe emissions and increases the amount of renewable material used in America's gastanks. They also say that ethanol is less damaging on engines because it runs cooler than pure gasoline.

The problem with E15

However, it's not all rainbows and unicorns.

For starters, E15 magnifies the complaints of many ethanol detractors -- namely, that it's not as environmentally friendly as you might think. Not only does the production of crops for ethanol often lead to deforestation, but it also puts a huge dent in global corn supplies, which isn't exactly helping the growing food crisis. Because of the latter problem, a handful of governors and nearly 200 members of Congress asked the EPA to suspend the Energy Independence and Security Act's ethanol provisions back in October, but the EPA declined their request

But it's not just forests and food banks that stand to suffer: ethanol opponents say that the stuff isn't so great for vehicles, either. In May, automakers announced the findings of a two-year study of E15, which revealed that the higher proportion of ethanol can actually damage engines. That could result in serious problems for new vehicles, and potentially expensive fixes for automakers.

Even oil companies dislike higher ethanol requirements -- which is odd, because ethanol is less efficient than gasoline, meaning that oil companies will sell more of the blended stuff. However that increase in potential sales is outweighed by the high cost of ethanol. As a result, last week, the industry announced a lawsuit to overturn the ethanol-in-gasoline mandate.


Now, one of America's foremost travel authorities, AAA, has weighed in. The organization complains that only 12 million of the 240 million light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads are approved to use E15 gasoline, or 5% of the total. And yet, AAA claims that 95% of drivers haven't even heard of E15 and remain unaware of its potentially damaging effects.

AAA also cites "engineering experts" (possibly the Coordinating Research Council, which conducted the automaker study mentioned above), who say that E15 can cause "accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false 'check engine' lights" in cars that aren't approved for the new fuel. 

According to AAA, the list of E15-approved vehicles is fairly small: Porsches from the 2001 model-year and later; GM vehicles from the 2012 model-year and later; and Ford vehicles from the 2013 model-year. 

Follow Us

Comments (9)
  1. Firstly, the fear mongering is overblown and damage to engines is very unlikely. This is the reason the EPA is pushing forward.

    Secondly, as the article finally gets to at the end, E15 will not show up in your normal pump.

    Unlike E10, which is now just "normal" gasoline, E15, like E85, will be in special pumps and you are not likely to use it by accident.

  2. Aw, John: you make it sound like I'm long-winded or something ;)

  3. Sorry, not my intent.
    Just think that the reader should have been told early in the article that E15 will not show up in their normal pump the way that E10 showed up in their normal pump.

    The article length is fine and it is a great topic.

  4. E-10 is labeled everywhere.

    I try to avoid it since it sucks in MPG. But Costco gas is so much cheaper than my local Chevron gas price (with seperate nozzle for each grade), I have to get Costco gas (which is 10% blend and mixed grade nozzle).

    I am definitely getting worse MPG with those "cheap" gas.

  5. I feel like the E10 pumps have been labeled as "contains up to a maximum of 10% alcohol" for many years. However, I think only recently have the pumps actually contained 10% alcohol. So the product coming out of the same pump has been slowly changing for years.

    But now with E15, there is a different approach, a separate pump for E15.

    Has anyone seen a gasoline pump that only dispenses straight gasoline (no alcohol)?

  6. tl;dr? Say, no mention of the higher octane rating, or that the some real engineers dispute the rating. I for one would like to know whether AAA is getting out of the travel/towing business and into oil lobbying. If so, I need to cancel my subscription.

  7. i have seen gas at the airport with no alcohol and i have seen the results of damage to gas powered tools ,boats and such. e10 is very costly it is not cost effective at all .less milage, less power ,and it turns rubber products into chewing gum.

  8. Comment disabled by moderators.

  9. if e15 is so good ,why dont they use it in airplanes.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.