New Study Says E15 Harmful to Fuel Pumps in Newer Vehicles


  • Toyota Gas Cap Picture

    Toyota Gas Cap Picture

    A research group says its latest test results show that the E15 fuel blend can cause premature failure of fuel system parts in newer cars and trucks. | January 29, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • A new study says E15 can damage fuel pumps and other fuel system parts.
  • The EPA has said E15 is OK for model-year 2001 and later passenger vehicles.
  • The study's backers ( the petroleum and auto industries) say their latest test results show the EPA acted too quickly and should rescind its approval of E15.

WASHINGTON — A study published by a joint petroleum and auto industries research group says that the E15 blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline recently approved for commercial use in late-model vehicles caused premature failure of fuel pumps and fuel-level sending devices used in cars and trucks built since 2000.

The group's chief sponsor, the American Petroleum Institute, called on the EPA to rescind its E15 approval. The group also said it is "seriously considering" a Supreme Court appeal of an earlier federal court decision invalidating an industry suit to block the E15 approval.

Although the fuel blend is still hard to find, the regulatory agency last year approved E15 for use in passenger vehicles from the 2001 and later model years.

The new study (immediately blasted as flawed and biased by the pro-ethanol Renewable Fuels Association) found that "substantial numbers" of fuel pumps, fuel system components and fuel-level senders failed after 50,000-60,000 miles of exposure to E15.

Such components are supposed to last at least 120,000 miles, according to the Coordinating Research Council, a joint effort of the American Petroleum Institute and the country's two major auto industry trade groups — the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers.

In a statement released Tuesday in support of the study, the two auto industry groups, which together represent every major automaker selling passenger vehicles in the U.S., said the study is one of 10 published research papers showing "the effects of fuel blends containing 15 percent ethanol are unknown at best, and — at worst — damaging to systems that were designed to function on traditional fuel."

Those traditional fuels typically contain no more than 10 percent ethanol — an alcohol produced from corn that is used as an oxygenator and in higher concentrations can be corrosive to metals and damaging to plastic and rubber seals and gaskets not designed for such exposure.

Despite the EPA's approval of E15 for all post-2000 vehicles, automakers have said they will not honor warrantees for engine or fuel system damage caused by E15 use in cars built before the 2013 model year. So far only Ford and General Motors have publicly approved their 2013 models for E15 use.

The Renewable Fuels Association argues that its studies and those by the EPA have shown E15 to be safe to use in later model vehicles. The group also argues that the federal requirement for large annual increases in the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline cannot be met at present levels of gasoline use in the U.S. without increasing the so-called blend wall to permit 15 percent ethanol content.

Edmunds says: While regulators and trade groups argue the merits of E15, consumers will be left to pay the repair bills if the fuel becomes widespread and does, indeed, prove to be harmful to the millions of vehicles not desgned for its use.

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