“There have been a lot of old-car fires lately. I went through the ’70s, the ’80s and most of the ’90s without ever having read much about car fires. Suddenly, they are happening all over the place.”
Jay Leno, former “Tonight Show” host and prominent vintage car collector and enthusiast, discussed this recent spike in auto fires to Autoweek. What does he identify as the culprit? Ethanol, the biofuel that’s increasingly sneaking into American’s gas tanks, thanks to a federal policy known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) which mandates just how much ethanol gets in your tank whether you like it or not.
Leno details the extent of the problem, below, and he encourages other antique auto enthusiasts to write their Congressmen, calling for an end to the ethanol mandate. But beyond just collectors, all drivers should write their Congressmen about the RFS because without reform, your car could be at risk too.
The problem with the ethanol mandate is that it increases every year, even if Americans don’t buy more fuel, which could push the fuel mix from 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent. And E15, that 15/85 blend causes engine damage in more than 90 percent of cars on the road today.
Here’s what he told Autoweek:
“As someone who collects old cars, and keeps them up religiously, I am now replacing fuel-pressure regulators every 12 to 18 months. New cars are equipped with fuel lines that are resistant to ethanol damage, but with older cars, the worst can happen—you’re going down the road, and suddenly your car is on fire.
There’s more. I find that gasoline, which used to last about a year and a half or two years, is pretty much done after a month or so these days. If I run a car from the teens or ’20s and fill it up with modern fuel, then it sits for more than two months, I often can’t get it to start.
Ethanol will absorb water from ambient air. In a modern vehicle, with a sealed fuel system, ethanol fuel has a harder time picking up water from the air. But in a vintage car, the water content of fuel can rise, causing corrosion and inhibiting combustion.
Ethanol is a solvent that can loosen the sludge, varnish and dirt that accumulate in a fuel tank. That mixture can clog fuel lines and block carburetor jets.
It gets worse. Ethanol is a solvent that can loosen the sludge, varnish and dirt that accumulate in a fuel tank. That mixture can clog fuel lines and block carburetor jets.
Blame the Renewable Fuel Standard. This government-mandated rule requires certain amounts of ethanol and other biofuels be blended with gasoline and diesel fuel. But when Congress first passed RFS as part of the Energy Policy Act in 2005, our demand for energy was increasing. Today, it’s the opposite. Total demand for fuel has decreased thanks to more-efficient vehicles, more hybrids and increased environmental awareness. The EPA is set to release the 2015 standard in June. Meanwhile, some legislators are pushing to reform or eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard entirely.
I just don’t see the need for ethanol. I understand the theory—these giant agri-business companies can process corn, add the resulting blend to gasoline and we’ll be using and importing less gasoline. But they say this diversion of the corn supply is negatively affecting food prices, and the ethanol-spiked gas we’re forced to buy is really awful.
The big growers of corn have sold us a bill of goods. Some people are making a lot of money because of ethanol. But as they divert production from food to fuel, food prices inevitably will rise. Now, if you don’t mind paying $10 for a tortilla …
Here’s another problem: When you have vehicles with fuel cells in their gas tanks, ethanol tends to eat the coating out of the fuel cell. If you have an old motorcycle and redo the fuel tank, the first thing you do is seal the tank with some sealant. It’s generally a cream or a gray color, and it looks like you painted the inside of the tank. On a lot of my bikes now, I’ll open the gas tank and I’ll go in with a long set of tweezers. I’m pulling out sheets of this coating. Really, it comes out in 6-inch strips.
The ethanol is just eating it up and clogging the fuel pump because it’ll move around as a sheet of material and block the opening. With cars like my McLaren F1, if I buy a 55-gallon drum of VP racing gas, the fuel cell will last twice as long.
It’s time for us as automobile enthusiasts to dig in our heels and start writing to our congressmen and senators about the Renewable Fuel Standard, or we’ll be forced to use even more ethanol. Most people assume, “Oh, that’ll never happen. They’ll never do that.” Remember prohibition? In 1920, all the saloons were closed. It took until 1933 before legal liquor came back…
So write those letters, but I also suggest you drain and clean your old car’s fuel tank, use a quality fuel-tank sealer that’s impervious to ethanol, replace fuel filters, keep all the screens clear and use a fuel stabilizer (added to a full fuel tank), if your car is to be stored for the winter season…”