Consumer Reports: E15 Gasoline is Chief Worry at Outdoor-Equipment Show

November 6, 2012

A slow rumble across the convention-hall floor during this week's annual Green Industry and Equipment Expo (GIE+Expo) wasn't coming from the outdoor gear being demonstrated behind the Kentucky Expo Center, at the show's 19-acre outdoor area. Rather, it was from news that some gas stations in Iowa, Kansas and Wisconsin had begun selling gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, or E15. We talked to Kris Kiser, President and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, but the subject came up in conversations with every manufacturer we met.

Even E10, the gasoline with 10-percent ethanol that's sold in most of the country, can have harmful effects on the small, non-road engines used in outdoor power equipment. Without ethanol in the fuel, gas to which you've added a stabilizer like Sta-Bil could sit in an engine for a month or two without harmful effects. But with E10 gasoline, storing a machine without starting it up regularly or, for wintertime storage (summertime for snowblowers), without running down the engine till it's dry can ruin it. Rubber and plastic parts become brittle, and moving parts can crust up from impurities in the water that ethanol, being an alcohol, attracts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of E15 gasoline in cars with model years 2001 or later and says it's not approved for older cars, outdoor power equipment, and other engines (such as those in boats). By law, labels to that effect must be posted on all pumps dispensing E15. Still, Kiser has described a number of situations in which someone could inadvertently put E15 into an unapproved engine.

If the average person is gassing up a late model car and also has a gas can to fill for the mower and string trimmer, for instance, would the customer really put back one pump's nozzle and gas up from another pump, especially if driving a few feet from the E10 pump to the E15 one is necessary? And if a landscaper gives his crew cash to fuel up all the machines, will the workers know not to just gas up with the cheapest fuel? It's a no-brainer not to fuel up with diesel or kerosene. But to most people, gasoline is gasoline.