A recent survey by AAA finds a strong likelihood of consumer confusion and the potential for voided warranties and engine damage as a result of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent approval of E15 gasoline. An overwhelming 95 percent of consumers surveyed have not heard of E15, a gasoline blend that contains up to 15 percent ethanol. There are currently no marine engines designed to run reliably on E15. However, most marine engines can run reliably on E10.
With little consumer knowledge about E15 and less than five percent of cars on the road approved by automakers to use the fuel, AAA has joined the National Marine Manufacturers Association in urging regulators and the industry to stop the sale of E15 until drivers and boat owners are better protected. Only about 12 million out of the more than 240 million light-duty vehicles on the roads today are approved by manufacturers to use E15 gasoline, based on a survey conducted by AAA of auto manufacturers.
AAA automotive engineering experts also have reviewed the available research and believe that sustained use of E15 in both newer and older vehicles could result in significant problems such as accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false “check engine” lights for any vehicle not approved by its manufacturer to use E15.
“It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle,” said AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet. “Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.” Unsuspecting consumers using E15 could end up with engine problems that might not be covered by their vehicles’ warranties.
E15 gasoline is prohibted at fuel docks, but many fishermen own trailer boats, and most of these are fueled at land-based gas stations. Lacking knowledge and vigilance, boating anglers might advertantly fill up with E15. While Suzuki Outboard announced last summer that some of its new outboards could run reliably on E15, the company withdrew that claim about a week after the announcement.
Five automotive manufacturers (BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen) are on record saying their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by the use of E15. Eight additional automakers (GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo) have stated that the use of E15 does not comply with the fuel requirements specified in their owner’s manuals and may void warranty coverage. Most inboard and sterndrive gasoline motors are based on older GM engine blocks.
The only vehicles currently approved by automakers to use E15 are flex-fuel models, 2001 model-year and newer Porsches, 2012 model-year and newer GM vehicles and 2013 model-year Ford vehicles, according to AAA. These approvals extend only to cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles (SUVs). The use of E15 is expressly prohibited in heavy-duty vehicles, boats, motorcycles, power equipment, lawn mowers and off-road vehicles.
“The sale and use of E15 should be suspended until additional gas pump labeling and consumer education efforts are implemented to mitigate problems for motorists and their vehicles,” continued Darbelnet. “Consumers should carefully read pump labels and know their auto manufacturer’s recommendations to help prevent any problems from E15.”
AAA urges fuel producers and regulators to do a better job of educating consumers about potential dangers before selling E15 gasoline. This outreach should include a consumer education campaign and more effective pump labels, among other potential safeguards to protect consumers. The AAA also recommends additional testing to conclusively determine the impact of E15 use on engines and fuel system components.