Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ethanol Gas Blend Killing Small Engines

Is your weed  wacker, chain saw or leaf blower running hot or going into the shop more than usual?  The problem might be the gasoline you use. In California, most of the gas contains 10% ethanol blended with the gas to increase oxygen levels for cleaner burning. This works fairly well in new cars and trucks (2001 and newer) but may cause damage in older cars and trucks. It also will wreak havoc on small engines like weed wackers, chain saws, generators and even larger rider lawnmowers.
Photo from Consumer Reports

I started to notice that using the same weed wacker from one year to the next that it was running way too hot and burning my wrist after just a few minutes of operation. After a little research I discovered that this was due to the ethanol in the gas I was using which contains more ethanol that before and it burns hotter. I also had to take two weed wackers back to Sears to be fixed and they were under warranty so no biggie. This happened two years in a row though which is why I got interested in this problem.

Turns out that you can buy pure gasoline for these small engines but you have to sign your name to a paper that says you will not put it in your car or truck. In Northern Humboldt County Ca. where I live, there are two places I know to get pure gasoline with no ethanol but it will cost you. First is Miller Farms Nursery in McKinleyville and in Eureka, Fortuna and even Garberville it is available at Renner Petroleum (not their self serve gas stations) but their 3 stores.

Read more about storing your engines in the off season and other precautions to take at the link to the 3 Renner stores or at Consumer Reports.


  1. the embodied heat of ethanol is about 2/3 that of gasoline. http://zfacts.com/p/436.html . Therefore the idea that an engine would run hotter with the addition of ethanol is scientifically baseless. I recognize that the real world can be surprising, and it may, in fact, be that certain makes or models of engines may run hotter with various fuels. However, the proof of that would require a rigorous study, and, if proven to be so, the onus of responsibility would fall to the manufacturer of the engine to fix the problem.

    The more likely explanation for why engines run hot when running 10% ethanol is that the engine is not tuned properly, and switching fuels to 100% gasoline is contraindicated as a solution.

    Your article lacks any scientific basis for the accusation that ethanol causes engines to run hot. Therefore, I find your article irresponsible. If you have some peer reviewed, published data supporting your claims, please cite it.

  2. According to the repair folks at Miller Farms, the problem with the ethanol is related to the increased attraction of water in the new fuel formulas. Lots of moisture in our climate around here and the ethanol is drawing it out at an increased rate...the moisture in turn is corroding and plugging the tiny carburetor jets found in small engines. Using gas additives (ie Sta-Bil) helps with this but Miller Farms recommended exclusingly using straight gas, which as noted you can buy there or at the Renner stores. It is more expensive but at least in my case the difference is insignificant...how much gas does one really go through in their various small engines compared to their car/truck? I might use 2-5 gallons a year, so we're talking about an extra ~$5/year...small potatoes compared to the repair bill I just paid to have my Husky weed whacker get a new carburetor.

  3. To continue with Dan Gale's line of reasoning: Clogged carb jets will cause a leaner mixture, which can result in overheating. Running non-ethanol fuel or adding a stabilizer may solve the problem.

  4. Stabilizer may be cheaper than buying pure gasoline. The heat explanation cited by ted and dan works for me. There might have been clogged jets and moisture. After burning a couple weed wackers up we gave up and bought service agreements and have just taken them in for the past two years in a row. Maybe they don't check for clogged carb jets.

    As for Kirs chiding me out on not being a peer reviewed scientist, it is true. I may have wacked more weed than him but I'm no scientist or science writer, I am basing my story on the Consumer Reports story in the post, a couple of local mechanics, the information from Renner the local fuel distributor and what I have experienced based on 14 years of experience in the same few acres here in Humboldt on the equipment and fuel sold here. Below is the first part of the Consumer Reports story which you can see in it's entirity above: During our testing of mowers and tractors in Fort Myers, Florida, this past winter, project leader Peter Sawchuk took us to a local power-equipment dealer who had an intriguing story to tell.

    Employees at the shop regularly rebuilt carburetors gummed up from the so-called "varnish" that builds up from unstabilized gas left sitting in engines. But since ethanol started being added to fuel sold in Florida in 2007, the power-equipment pros were seeing something new: metal parts crusted up, plastic parts stiffened and cracked, and everything rubber, including the tips of needle valves, deteriorated. (The photo shows how ethanol could impact the carburetor of a small gas engine; the white, crusty film is apparently caused by the ethanol.)
    Ethanol has been mixed with gasoline at the pumps for decades and is used in about half the country. The typical ratio is about 10 percent ethanol to 90 percent gasoline, known as E10. There are other blends, including E85, a mixture with 85 percent ethanol. (Learn more about ethanol.)

    A political storm over ethanol is brewing, and it revolves around adding more ethanol to gasoline.

    It began this past March, when a coalition of ethanol producers formally asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve the use of E15, a blend containing 15 percent ethanol. The lobbying group Growth Energy filed for the waiver to the Clean Air Act, claiming that increasing the blend to E15 would create jobs and inject billions of dollars annually into the economy. Granting the waiver request, the group also said, wouldn't impact small engines since gas stations would still be able to sell E10.

  5. http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/reviews/outdoor-tools/can-boutique-fuel-save-small-engines-from-the-wear-and-tear-of-e10

  6. http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/ethanol-could-kill-your-small-engine

  7. http://ethanolproducer.com/articles/8528/outdoor-power-equipment-maker-kicks-off-ethanol-awareness-effort

  8. My Stihl string trimmer had a locking gas cap with a rather convoluted design. Not too long after I started using it the cap became hard, then impossible, to close. Shortly after that I received a letter from Stihl saying those caps were susceptible to damage by ethanol and needed to be replaced. They basically recalled the caps and I was able to go into Western Chain Saw and get a new cap at no cost (they didn't seem happy about it).

    Razur Sharp, at 2nd and X in Eureka, has a small poster in their repair shop showing examples of ethanol damage to various pieces of equipment.

    Not politically correct to say so, but ethanol has been causing mechanical problems from the beginning of it's use. Never mind cars get less mileage using E10, the affect it has on food prices and the environmental costs of growing corn for ethanol.

    Why are so few questioning the use of ethanol? Because of Archer Daniels Midland and the corn growers that get government subsidies for growing or processing corn for ethanol. One of America's dirty little secrets.

    Oh, and as far as gas stabilizer goes, that's the first I've heard of it helping with ethanol problems. I do know one of the mechanics at Razur Sharp told me any good grade of fuel mix already has stabilizer in it, which makes me wonder why gas stabilizer is also sold separately?

  9. Thanks Fred. Much of that corn is GMO corn and that is contaminating non GMO corn and organics when pollen blows on the wind. This corn not meant for human consumption is being mixed in with what we eat. All for the sake of having a locally grown fuel additive because we cant come up with a fix for transportation. Crazy.

  10. Modern vehicles can drive on ethanol without any problems, small engines don't usually come with a computer that controls the air and fuel mixture and the burn. Use at your own risk or get pure gasoline which has to be available anywhere in the world because I can get it here in California.

  11. My 4 cycle lawn mower runs good on E10. Some claim drilling out orifice for proper air fuel ratio and running E85 a superior fuel. The two cycle chain saw idle is fast with E10. I could adjust the high and low speed carb needle valves and idle, but the saw runs good with no adjustment. My old cheap Homelite weed wacker on the way out, but the thing just keeps on running. Note long ago I gave up on the 50:1 oil mix. I had just to many nuked engines and this before ethanol fuel. Problem solved by dropping ratio to no more than 32:1. I read the EPA was hoping to do away with 2 cycle engines per their air pollution, but came up with compromise of 50:1 oil mix. Manufacturers have to insist on this mix per legal threat. I have used the E10 fuel for years and appreciate the ethanol additive. Ethanol does absorb moisture and that's a good thing. Remember the years of dumping cans of Heat into car to keep water out of tanks, gas line freeze up, iced carburetors, and stuck throttles. How about the gas station fuel tanks that collected water and cars conked out per water. Same with boat engines getting slammed with slug of water. Water problems within fuel supply gone, thank you ethanol. Also, the water within ethanol will be burned whereas the water accumulating within carb or tank in prior years just rusted components or eventually got sucked into engine for stall conditions. Phase change of ethanol with water is a rare event. You would need to keep gas tank cap off for hundreds of humid summer days to accomplish phase change. Also, know that the ethanol in fuel cleans petro varnish another good thing for fuel supply. Injectors and fuel system is cleaner with ethanol. Carbon buildup is reduced in combustion chamber and oil stays cleaner. Two cycle oil mix can be a problem with ethanol as ethanol does not mix as well with the oil. The synthetics a better oil even with pure gas. Synthetics basically vegetable oils. They have superior lubrication qualities and mix better with ethanol fuel (note that I can't justify the cost). Be sure to shake up your two cycle gas can to improve the oil gas mix. Also, knowing the advantages of ethanol...I will wager the high horsepower light engines will migrate to E85 fuel. Ethanol fuel carries oxygen molecule within the fuel, thus allowing engines to behave like bigger engines. Even though the fuel has less btu per gallon, this characteristic of ethanol will generate more horsepower per cubic inch of engine displacement and do so with cleaner exhaust and less engine heat. Note that ethanol fuel spill upon water ways is much less harmful as compared to gasoline. Seems a natural to utilize E85 for boats.

  12. We have some great prices on these products. For example our Sta-bil Ethanol Fuel Treatment / 10 Oz. Bottle

    Cleans fuel injectors, carburetors and intake valves for better overall performance , 1 oz. treats 2 1/2 gallons of fuel , Recommended for use at every fill up , Helps remove water from fuel , Prevents corrosion caused by today's ethanol blended fuels , Made by Gold Eagle

    Get more Details Here

  13. I now recommend TrueFuel premix for weed wackers and chain saws if you aren't using them just about every day.
    It's a bit pricy but it makes them easy to start, runs better and meets or exceeds all factory warranty requirements.


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