In June 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the sale of E15 gasoline, a mixture of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gas. (A lower ethanol mixture containing 10 percent ethanol, E10, was already widely being sold in the U.S.) The E15 fuel blend has been touted as a method of reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and the United States’ dependence on foreign oil, and the EPA has asserted (based on a 2011 study by the Department of Energy) that virtually all vehicles built in 2001 or later can safely run on E15.
Automakers and the AAA Say “No” to E15
However, several automakers and the American Automobile Association (AAA) have disputed the EPA’s claims, maintaining that E15 could damage fuel lines and void vehicle owners’ warranties in many cars, particularly vehicles manufactured prior to 2012:
Only 12 million of the more than 240 million light-duty vehicles in the United States are approved by manufacturers to use the gasoline, according to AAA. Automotive engineering experts believe that sustained use of the gas, both in newer and older vehicles, could cause accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false “check engine” lights for vehicles not approved by manufacturers to use E15, according to AAA.
The EPA recommends the use of E15 only in flexible-fuel vehicles and those built in 2001 or later, but critics maintain that even if E15 is safe for most or all cars in that class, many vehicles still on the road (up to 45% in some areas) do not fall within that class, and the newness of E15 means that many drivers could end up filling their tanks with the gasoline, not knowing it’s not approved for all vehicles.
“BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and VW have said their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15. Ford, Honda, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have said E15 use will void warranties,” says Robert Darbelnet, AAA President and CEO, citing potential corrosive damage to fuel lines, gaskets and other engine components.
The AAA says the sale and use of E15 should be stopped until there is more extensive testing, better pump labels to safeguard consumers and more consumer education about potential hazards.
E15 Proponents Say Danger Is Overblown
Proponents of E15 maintain that just because auto manufacturers assert their warranties will not cover cars fueled with E15 doesn’t mean use of the E15 blend actually poses a danger to those vehicles, that the potential for damage to fuel lines and engine components is overstated:
Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, says E15 is safe for virtually all post-2001 vehicles, based on extensive government-sponsored testing. “We think the (EPA) warning label should be sufficient to notify consumers,” Dinneen said. “There are no corrosive issues with E15. If there’s an issue with E15 (damaging vehicles) we’re going to know about it, and the EPA is going to know about it.“
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