What do you (think you) know about E15?

A recent article about unleaded E15 in a Wisconsin newspaper attempted to explain what’s different about the “new” 88 unleaded gasoline being sold in a growing number of locations in the state. Whether it was the fault of the reporter or his source from the American Automobile Association (AAA), the article succeeded primarily as an example of “experts” who are often wrong but seldom in doubt, and typical misinformation being spread about E15 since the “new” fuel was approved by EPA in 2011. (I would provide a link to the story, but it’s mostly inaccurate, so if you want to read it, shoot me an email and I’ll share it with you).

The article was interesting because its bad information followed the bad information that has been force-fed to retailers since EPA approved E15 for use in ALL 2001 and newer cars and light trucks seven years ago. Despite the fact no retailer or consumer has reported any of the problems predicted by the “experts,” the misinformation persists, and retailers are still reluctant to offer E15. That’s disappointing, but is proof the smear campaign has worked, especially considering the fact E15 is typically two to 10 cents cheaper than other gasolines, is approved for use in 90 percent of the vehicles visiting most retail stations, and wouldn’t require the purchase of new equipment in most locations.

Interestingly enough, the AAA spokesman acknowledges the lower price for higher octane E15 gasoline, but says the discount is due to “government ethanol subsidies,” despite the last subsidy expiring at the end of 2011. Ethanol is higher octane fuel and it costs less than gasoline – without subsidies. That may be hard to believe, but it is true.

One chunk of misinformation in the article was one we’ve been hearing recently from station owners. It said, “President Trump’s Administration recently lifted a ban on selling gasoline with higher amounts of ethanol.” While the process to make the change is underway, despite announcements making it seem like a done deal, it has not happened. We’re cautiously optimistic, but it’s not a done deal. The change would update an old rule forcing E15 to meet a lower Reid vapor pressure (RVP) standard in summer months. E15 already has lower RVP than 95 percent of the gasoline currently sold in the U.S., but outdated laws still on the books force retailers to sell E15 as gasoline most of the year and switch to flex fuel or some other grade during the busiest months of the year.

Several of the reporter’s questions address the value of higher octane, which the AAA rep dismissed. That may explain AAA’s ongoing hypocrisy in ignoring the 85-octane gas sold in the Rocky Mountains, but flies in the face of their “check your owner’s manual” so you don’t harm your engine, advice. Every owner’s manual for a gas-powered engine says the gas should be 87-octane or higher.

It isn’t all bad, though. The AAA spokesman correctly says most people wouldn’t notice a difference in mileage between E15 and the typical 10 percent blend, and that one tank of 88 octane E15 “should have no effect” on your car. That second one might come as a shock to retailers who’ve been led to predicting suddenly disabled vehicles, lawsuits and fines for stations selling E15 to the wrong car or at the wrong time.

In short, year-round E15 may become a reality by next summer, and if you’re a retailer holding out because you’ve heard bad things, you’re probably holding out for the wrong reasons. E15 isn’t for everyone – only station owners interested in new customers who want higher octane, lower priced fuel.

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