Bob McNally – USA Guest Author
If you own a boat and outboard motor, and you’ve not yet run afoul of E10 gasoline, count your lucky stars. Better yet, get informed fast on the dangers to your motor that E10 fuel potentially has, or it can cost you lots of down-time from fishing and boating, and plenty of money, too.
No matter where you live, you’re likely aware of E10 fuel, since it’s sold at most roadside gas stations throughout America. In many states, like where I live in Florida, E10 fuel is the law, and the norm, virtually everywhere cars fuel up.
You’ve likely seen E10 decals on fuel pumps when you’re filling your car. They state that fuel sold at that station has “no more than 10-percent ethanol.” Ethanol is an oil-alternative alcohol-based fuel, usually made from corn, and mandated by government to supposedly lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Sounds good, except that people using E10 are rapidly learning it can be destructive to their outboard motors. I have, and I’ve been sucker-punched to the extent that I find my outboard has lost considerable power, is unreliable, and I’m constantly changing water-fuel separators, spark plugs and even clogged fuel injectors on my previously very happy (before E10) Yamaha 115 hp four-stroke outboard.
Although every major manufacturer of outboard motors reports their engines run just fine on E10 fuel, spokespersons for those same companies know that in the real world of fishing and boating, E10 can be a disaster.
Here’s why E10 contributes to boat fuel system problems, according to a Yamaha marine retail bulletin:
- Ethanol is hygroscopic, meaning it has a strong attraction to moisture.
- Ethanol increases the amount of water accumulating in fuel tanks.
- Ethanol produces less energy (BTUs) than an equivalent unit of gasoline.
- E10 fuel’s usable life span may be less than the normal length of off-season boat storage.
- Ethanol is a strong cleaner (solvent).
- Ethanol will clean gum and varnish as well as surface corrosion from any surface it contacts in a boat fuel system as well as storage and transport tanks in a fuel distribution system.
- Ethanol may dissolve plastic resins used to make some fiberglass fuel tanks.
If the above facts about Ethanol don’t scare the daylights out of you as a fisherman and boater, you might try reading them again, slowly. Better yet, call a marine mechanic, and mention ethanol, or E10. You’re likely to hear horror stories that would shock Stephen King.
One of the biggest boating issues of E10 fuel is it has the unhappy ability to attract water. And as almost everyone knows, water in gas engines is a serious problem. To help stem that flow into your outboard, be sure you have a high-quality (25-micron minimum) marine fuel-water separator (filter) installed in the gas line, and check it and replace it often. This filter prevents not only water from getting to the engine, but also debris that may result from ethanol degrading a boat fuel tank and gas lines.
“When checking a boat fuel-water separator, pour the gas out of it into a clear container and see if there is water and/or debris in it,” says Danny Patrick, a marine dealer and boating authority in Jacksonville, Florida. “If the fuel you pour out of the separator is milky or cloudy, you’ve got a problem. Completely draining gas from a tank may be necessary. Sometimes an entire fuel line system must be changed. Fiberglass tanks are a real problem with ethanol, and should be replaced with metal tanks. Outboard fuel injectors commonly foul, and must be replaced if contaminated with water or debris from E10. Once you have an E10 problem in a motor or boat, it can be very difficult solving it for good. It’s very common during the warm-weather fishing season, especially in the South.”
Regular changing of a fuel separator is recommended by Patrick, and many outboard companies advise that, too. Installing a new separator for every 50 hours of running time is a good idea, more often if you have on-going problems.
Another recommended procedure to thwart the wrath of E10 is to regularly use a commercial fuel additive designed specifically for ethanol. Many outboard companies produce such additives, with Yamaha’s “Yamalube,” Star Brite’s “StarTron Enzyme Fuel Treatment,” and Sta-Bil’s “Ethanol Treatment” among the industry leaders.
I use an additive every time I add fuel.
Experts advise keeping boat fuel tanks completely full of gas at all times. This reduces the air gap at the top of a tank, so there is less chance for water condensation to form to contaminate fuel. Full tanks are especially important during hot summer weather, particularly in the South.
Because E10 degrades rapidly, it’s not a good idea to leave this fuel in a motor tank for long duration, which in the real outboard world is common even during the height of the fishing and boating season. For winter storage, draining a fuel tank is worthwhile.
Recently E10 has been getting bad press, at least on the internet, for destroying small engines of the type used for lawn and garden maintenance. I’ve check with several small engine repair shows, which confirm that, so E10 is now taking an even bigger toll than outboard motors.
Government agencies pressing ethanol use have recognized the problem the fuel has in outboards and RVs (not cars, so far), so in some places regular old gasoline without ethanol is available. Some marinas sell it, and while it’s about $1 more per gallon, it’s cost effective to use to avoid E10 headaches. But non-E10 fuel can be difficult to locate. And it’s not cheap.
E10 is touted in many political and environmental circles as a “conservation” procedure, as it reduces oil use for fuel. However, hundreds of thousands of acres of land throughout America that had been in the “Conservation Reserve Program” (CRP) are now being put under the plow for growing corn, since farmers can make more from ethanol production than leaving land idle in CRP. Land planted in CRP wild grassland habitats for years have been a boom to wild game like pheasants, quail, rabbits, as well as song birds, deer, and a host of other species. But that is changing, and fast.
And in case you haven’t noticed, chicken and beef prices have jumped significantly in recent times. People in the know say that’s so because surplus corn for chicken and cattle feed isn’t as cheap as it once was, since there’s no excess due to ethanol production.
Next up, E15 fuel, which is being strongly advocated by regulatory agencies, since it’s made of 15 percent ethanol.