Can your car handle more ethanol?

It seems appropriate on Earth Day to write about a story that received little publicity last week, but which could have a major impact on you. The EPA is considering a petition to allow gasoline to contain as much as 15 percent ethanol, up from the current 10 percent. Hence, before you buy a second-hand gas-guzzling metal piece, perhaps you could consider via het schade verleden to see if it lives up to the mark.

The 10 percent figure was selected years ago because testing showed that no damage would occur to vehicles using that mixture.  Beyond that percentage, things got a bit fuzzy.

I’m sure you’re probably wondering why the EPA is headed in that direction.  Well, here’s the answer in a nut shell:

An oversupply of ethanol has prompted a wave of bankruptcies and made the ethanol industry eager to expand its market. Ethanol producers are being squeezed as corn prices stay relatively high and as ethanol prices stay relatively low. Todd Alexander, a partner at Chadbourne & Parke LLP, estimates that some ethanol producers are losing up to 10 cents on every gallon of ethanol.

Actually, that statistic should not come as any real surprise given the price of gasoline today, and the fact that it costs (according to a 2005 Department of Agriculture report) $2.53 to produce a gallon of ethanol.

But, not satisfied with the EPA’s somewhat slow process (by law, it has until December 1 to make a decision on the petition), the ethanol industry has turned to Congress for help. Some lawmakers have held meetings with the EPA designed to “urge” the EPA to allow blends of 12 percent to 13 percent immediately pending the decision on the 15 percent figure.

There is only one small problem with either “fix” for the ethanol industry’s dilemma.

Auto makers offer so-called flex-fuel vehicles designed to accept up to 85% ethanol fuels. But many current and older model cars aren’t designed for ethanol concentrations above 10%.

And, as a result, most car warranties use that standard when it comes to fuel system components.

Too much ethanol can, among other things, cause corrosion in a car’s fuel delivery pipes. To that end, when speaking about the proposed increase in allowable ethanol, Alan Adler, a spokesman for General Motors has said, “we want to make sure we’re not on the hook for vehicles” still under warranty should a problem arise in the fuel system.

No one disagrees with the fact that this country should become more energy independent. But, to enact a regulation that will put more money in the pockets of a company like Archer Daniels Midland, one of our larger ethanol producers, by reducing the “oversupply” of ethanol, but which could put all of our existing car warranties in jeopardy seems more than a bit foolish.

Were I the EPA I would want an agreement from every car manufacturer that they will honor the existing warranty should a problem arise with a 15 percent ethanol mix before I mandated a 15 percent mix. But, then again, that’s just me.

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The Sound Off Sister was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and special trial attorney for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division; a partner in the Florida law firm of Shutts & Bowen, and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, School of Law. The Sound Off Sister offers frequent commentary concerning legislation making its way through Congress, including the health reform legislation passed in early 2010.


  1. Dimsdale on April 22, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Obambi will just tell GM and the others that they have to cover the cars, causing them to eat more losses, and plunge even deeper into insolvency.

    Ethanol in current proportions is messing up vehicles already, particularly those in humid environments, like in boat engines.  Ethanol attracts water, which plays havoc with fuel injection systems.  Ethanol eats up older hoses, precipitating fuel leaks.  Ethanol is made from food.

    Now does any of that sound like it should be perpetuated, much less made more of a problem?

    All so midwest congresscritters can buy votes.

  2. Darlene on April 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Another motive:  the gov't will create another tax credit nightmare to make everyone go out and buy green cars that they shouldn't be forced to buy, thus inflating car sales.  Then everyone thinks the economy is showing signs of improvement … for a while (but once again … manipulated by the gov't).  Possible Translation = Almost Cooking the Books!  And the laughable part … who pays? … we do.

  3. Wyndeward on April 23, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Of course, a third question would be "can the food supply handle more ethanol?"

    How much *do* you want to pay for a loaf of bread?

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