Ethanol problems are on the rise

In June 2009, I wrote a column warning about the problems that many boaters were experiencing due to the use of ethanol-blended gasoline. I also warned that the EPA was entertaining a petition by the ethanol-lobbying group to increase the percentage ethanol blend from 10 to 15 percent.

This November, in true bureaucratic fashion, the EPA bowed to the wishes of the ethanol producers, and authorized an increase from 10 to 15 percent ethanol fuel. This increased amount of ethanol is supposedly for 2007 and newer automobiles and light trucks.

When the EPA announced this increase, they also warned that the higher concentration of alcohol was not to be used in marine engines, motorcycles and gas-powered lawn and garden tools.

Outboard motor manufacturers have consistently warned against using gasoline with more than 10-percent alcohol content. Higher concentrations of alcohol can cause catastrophic engine failure, and the outboard manufacturers have all stated that your warranty will be voided if you use greater than 10-percent alcohol blends.

What a wonderful example of our government at work. The EPA authorizes the increase of alcohol in our gasoline. They claim it is for 2007 and newer vehicles, and warn it is not to be used in marine, motorcycle or lawn equipment engines.

They simply overlooked one slight detail: Who is going to be responsible when this increased alcohol content causes engine damage?

Fifteen-percent ethanol fuel may start showing up in gas stations at anytime in the coming months. There is currently no labeling required for the 15-percent blend. No one has addressed the question of whether we will have the choice of 10 percent, 15 percent or just good-ol’ pure gasoline.

Apparently, the monkey is going to be on your back. It will be your responsibility to know what type of fuel you are pumping into your auto, truck or boat, and you will need to know what type of fuel is acceptable for each of those tanks.

If you must use ethanol-blended gasoline in your boat, you may want to invest in an ethanol fuel test kit. I found these kits through a Google search for “ethanol alcohol fuel test kit.” These kits are very inexpensive — $25 plus shipping — and easy to use. It is a quick, two-step process, and you will see the results from 0-30% before you pump the gas into your tank.

There are a few other precautions you should take to protect your outboard engines from the problems associated with ethanol. The installation of a water-separating fuel filter will trap water and dirt, and keep them from damaging your carburetors or fuel injectors. Make sure it is mounted in an area that is easy to get to so the filter can be removed and checked on a regular basis.

Ethanol-blended gasoline has a shelf life of approximately 90 days, after which the octane level drops and the fuel becomes stale. The use of a fuel stabilizer will extend the shelf life to 1 year. Fuel stabilizer must be added when you fill your tank at the gas station. If you wait several weeks or months and then add stabilizer, you will be throwing your money down the drain. This product is very inexpensive. An 8-ounce bottle will cost approximately $13, and the mixture ratio is 1 ounce per 10 gallons of gas.

Alcohol is a water magnet. During the day when temperatures rise, the gas in your tank expands, forcing air out of the tank. At night when the temperature drops, the gas contracts and sucks air into the tank through the vent. The alcohol in your gasoline seeks out the moisture in that air.

Water molecules are joined with alcohol molecules, and are accumulated in the bottom of the tank. Keeping your tank full will reduce the air space and thus reduce the amount of humidity that can accumulate in the tank.

Ethanol-related fuel system problems have become a major source of business for many outboard repair shops. I have performed countless numbers of carburetor overhauls, rebuilt fuel pumps and replaced hundreds of feet of fuel lines due to the effects of ethanol.

If you have any questions about your boat, motor or trailer, you can e-mail me at

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