Ethanol - Help or Harm? Part 1

Danville, VA - Could the gasoline you're using be bad for your engine? A lot of people say yes and they say ethanol is to blame. Ethanol, made from corn, is designed to decrease our country's dependence on foreign oil. Supporters say it's good for farmers, our economy, and our environment and is perfectly safe for our cars. Opponents say it's an engine killer that's being forced on us by the federal government.You can bet almost every car on this road is fueled with a 10% ethanol blend, but at Sunny Mountain Store in Lovingston, they run on customers going ethanol free. "The ethanol-free gas is a big draw. It brings people in," said Mike Crabill, family owns Sunny Mountain Store. Crabill's sells non-ethanol gas to folks who come from miles away."Lot of people that have landscaping businesses will come down here with a trailer full of lawnmowers and gas cans and weed eaters and all their equipment and they will gas everything up and take as much gas as they can carry away," said Crabill.Car buffs, loggers, and boaters also take advantage of ethanol free gas. They often have their eye out for signs saying 'ethanol free' out of fear that using an ethanol-blend could ruin their engines. Steve Bowman of Steve Padgett's Honda says, if not handled properly, in some rare cases, it could."Some of the older cars back in the 80s and 90s, if they sit a lot, it has a drying effect on seals and carburetors and fuel injection systems and stuff of that nature," said Bowman. You can find a graveyard of ruined smaller engines at James River Equipment."This right here is water that is mixed with the ethanol," said Ron Archer, mechanic at James River Equipment.Archer tells us he replaces more than 20 two-stroke and four-stroke carburetors every season for things like lawnmowers, chain saws, and leaf blowers. He says here, too, the problem is due to owners leaving gas in them for extended periods of time."Fuel comes in and sits inside of here and over a length of time, it starts to gel and turn a green color," said Archer. Archer says the water bonding with the Ethanol can rust and ruin parts of small engines. But he points out, leaving any type of gas sitting in these - with or without ethanol will do damage over time. Archer says, when using Ethanol, you have to run the engine at least every month, without Ethanol it's every 3 months."Some people use snow blowers and haven't used them in 4 or 5 years and the fuel has been sitting in it, it's going to be a problem, I don't care what kind of fuel you have," said Archer. But, as for your car, unless it's really old, Ethanol should not be a problem."It really has no effect on the engines for the last probably 15 years," said Bowman. Bowman and his mechanics have never had a car come in with engine problems due to ethanol. But how about your bottom line. What is ethanol doing to your wallet?"Ethanol is a less energy intense product," said James Pease, Professor of Agriculture and Applied Economics at VT.Pease says an Ethanol blend will give you lower gas mileage. But he says Ethanol is cheaper to produce than gas, so you'll pay less at the pump, giving you a little more bang for your buck."Even though you give up energy, you get a little more on the reduction of overall price," said Pease.That hasn't swayed most of Mike Crabill's customers who says newer car or not, they prefer 100% gasoline."We will continue to keep non-ethanol gas for as long as we are able to get it," said Crabill.Blenders are required to add bio-fuels to their gasoline until 2022.