Saturday, March 23, 2013

Putting E85 in a Gas-Only Car

We recently tried it in our car and succeeded. Click here to read why we wanted to burn E85 in our car. This is what happened:

We'd read the letter by John Kolak on using E85 in regular cars, and then we read Marc Rauch's response. Rauch describes his ongoing experiments with E85 in non-flex-fuel vehicles (which you can read here). And we also read about Robert Zubrin's experiments with methanol and his discovery that non-flex fuel cars already have the components to be flex fuel cars.

But we were still skeptical and didn't want anything bad to happen to our beloved 2001 Prius, so we bought a conversion kit and installed it (which you can read about here).

In order to fix an unrelated problem with our car, we took off the conversion kit (temporarily, we thought) but in the process, we broke one of the conversion kit's plugs. So we decided to gather up some courage and try E85 without a kit just to see what would happen. We were watching David Blume's video where he says he once mentioned on a national talk show that anyone could put E85 in their regular car, and immediately the petroleum industry made it mandatory for all gas stations to put stickers on their E85 pumps warning people not to put E85 into non-flex-fuel cars. Watch Blume's video here. Blume's reassurance that you can put E85 into any car (and that it's perfectly legal) was the final straw for us.

We decided to do it. We thought we'd try it in stages. So first we waited until our tank was pretty empty and put in one gallon of E85. By our calculations, that meant we were running on 33% alcohol. We figured if there was a problem, we had plenty of room in the tank to fill up with regular gasoline and dilute the ethanol enough to stop whatever problem it was causing. But we didn't have any problems. We couldn't even tell the difference. Our 2001 Prius was successfully burning E33! This was encouraging.

The next phase of our experiment was to let the tank empty out some more. Then we put in three gallons of E85. By our calculations that made it E70 (70% ethanol in the tank). We still had enough room to add four more gallons of regular gasoline if there was a problem, which would have brought it back down to about E30, and we already knew the car could handle that.

But again, there was no problem. We couldn't tell any difference. The car was running perfectly! We drove around quite a bit, using up most of the tank. Everything was going smoothly.

This was great. Then we embarked on a 500-mile trip and on our way out of town, we filled up with E85, which put us at probably E80 or so. While we were at the station, we looked carefully at the little warning sticker. It said we should check with the clerk before putting E85 in our car. So we went in to see what the clerk would say. He said the warning was on there because E85 can damage engines. "Where did you hear that?" we asked. "The tow truck guy told me," he said, "apparently it burns too hot or something."

We straightened him out. Alcohol burns cooler than gasoline.

Anyway, with our tank full of E85, we drove up over the Cascade Mountains (in Washington State). No problems. The only thing that seemed different is that the car had a little more power than we were used to. This is not surprising. They use ethanol in the Indianapolis 500 because it is safer but also because it can give a car more horsepower (it's a higher-octane fuel).

Other than that, we couldn't tell any difference. So our non-flex-fuel Prius went up a long grade to a high elevation burning E80 with no problems. This was incredible. We were so happy. John Kolak and Marc Rauch and David Blume were right!

After about 90 miles, we stopped at a rest area and when we got back on the road, the engine light came on.

Uh oh.

But we already knew this was a possibility. Rauch said he has put straight E85 into many cars and in some of them, the engine light came on. Our car kept running fine. There wasn't really a problem. But the O2 sensor was detecting fewer emissions than expected, and the car's computer thought something must be wrong.

Rauch said he took his car into a shop and had them check why the engine light was on (without telling them he was burning E85). They told him his O2 sensor was broken. He said thanks, drove away, filled up on straight gasoline and after awhile, the engine light went off. He took the car to the shop again, told them the engine light was coming on intermittently and had them check it out. Nothing was wrong now. The sensor had healed! Not really. It was never broken in the first place.

So we decided on our trip to drive the Prius for awhile with the engine light on. The car ran perfectly. When it was time to fill up, we put in one gallon of regular gasoline to see if that would make the light go off. Apparently that wasn't enough. So we filled up on regular gasoline. Still the light stayed on. We thought we were going to have to take it to the shop to get it reset or something.

But before we headed for home, the light went off and has been off since!

Now we think we'll just burn E85 all the time and let the engine light shine like a badge of courage. We took a risk and discovered we can immediately stop sending our fuel dollars to OPEC and we can give it instead to American farmers and American workers where it can do some good for our economy and our air quality (ethanol produces fewer emissions that cause health problems).

Maybe once in awhile when we get nervous about it, we will fill the tank with gasoline just to see the engine light go off again. But then again, maybe not. It feels too good to fill our tank with freedom.

Read more: Burning E85 Without a Conversion Kit.

Why would you want to burn E85 in your car? Find out here.

1 comment:

  1. You can read a paper that I wrote that explains (for non-technical people) exactly how a non-FFV reacts to high ethanol fuel blends; how and where it adapts and where it does not adapt. The paper also explains why your check engine light (CEL) comes on and what this means (it is an artifact of the OBD2 system required on all cars). The paper is posted at:

    This paper specifically avoids making any recommendations. It is your information and understanding only. I have also posted a paper by John Kolak that contains his thoughts and recommendations:

    I hope that this information is helpful. I think that if you want to ride around with the CEL on, you ought to at least purchase a diagnostic readout device from an auto parts store and make sure that the error codes behind the CEL relate to LTFT only (the OBD2 artifact). You'd hate yourself for ignoring a real warning about something unrelated and ending up with a big repair bill :-). Otherwise, install one of the conversion kits. What most of these kits really do is to cheat the ECU into computing an LTFT that avoids the CEL from coming on. People have expressed disappointment to me about this being "such a trivial function". I don't consider it trivial at all; per the above.

    Bob Glicksman (