Like it or not, gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol will soon be coming to a retailer near you. The EPA has approved E15 for use in motor vehicles built since 2001, and they insist that they’ve tested the fuel across a wide variety of vehicles and applications prior to its approval. Even the new E15 label, which must be displayed on pumps dispensing E15 fuel, is clear about where the fuel can and cannot be used. It even reminds you that use in other vehicles is prohibited by federal law.
The EPA may feel that E15 is safe, but automakers don’t necessarily agree. Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Company, Toyota Motor Corporation, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda Motor Company, Hyundai Motor Company, Kia Motors Corporation, Mazda Motor Corporation, Nissan Motor Company, Volkswagen AG and Volvo Car Corporation have all written letters of protest, and some have gone so far as to say use of E15 may void vehicle warranties. The letters were sent to Representative James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican determined to force the EPA to withdraw its approval of E15.
In addition to potential fuel system and engine damage, E15 yields lower fuel economy than conventional gasoline, which means that it’s hardly a bargain if priced on par with regular unleaded gasoline. E15 is specifically precluded from use in motorcycles, vehicles with heavy-duty engines, off-road vehicles such as boats and snowmobiles, small engines such as lawn mowers and chainsaws, and in any 2000 or earlier model-year car, light-duty truck or SUV. Retailers may opt not to sell E15, or it may be sold alongside of other fuels; if you’re concerned about using it in your own car, be sure to pay attention when you tank up this summer.