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Does E85 Damage Engines — Or Injectors Or Fuel Lines?

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Does E85 Damage Engines — Or Injectors Or Fuel Lines?

As someone who already uses E85 flex fuel, or as someone who’s interested in switching to E85, you may have heard a common myth about it. Rumor has it that E85 damages engines, fuel lines, and fuel injectors. This myth is so prevalent that we have a lot of customers and prospective customers ask us if it’s true. So we want to set the record straight.

Does E85 Really Damage Engines, Fuel Lines, And Fuel Injectors?

No. Not in the least bit. That is if your vehicle is compatible with E85 or has the right tune or kit (like an eFlexFuel E85 capability kit). Is your vehicle compatible with flex fuel? E85 is actually safer for your engine than regular gasoline is. E85 flex fuel not only powers your engine but also cleans your engine, fuel lines, and fuel injectors. That’s because E85 contains a high amount of ethanol, up to 83%.

Ethanol is an excellent cleaner. It clears the engine, fuel lines, and fuel injectors of deposits. It’s common for deposits to build up in the combustion chamber, fuel lines, fuel injectors, and a few other places within the engine. E85 is such an effective cleaner that some people run about 1 or 2 tanks worth of E85 through their engines instead of using a fuel injector cleaner. A surefire way to ensure that your engine remains clean is to use E85 often (or all the time).

How This Myth Originated A Few Decades Ago

Vehicles produced before 1994 didn’t have to be compatible with ethanol-based fuel. That means the stock parts in these cars weren’t always «immune» to ethanol. Ethanol can corrode some materials, including some types of:

When a vulnerable material is exposed to ethanol, it deteriorates over time. That can lead to some pretty serious engine damage. Back in the old days (pre-1994), E85 could eat away at some engine components. Most vehicles produced in and after 1994 are immune to ethanol. Since 1994, it has been US federal law that vehicles must be compatible with ethanol. So engine damage caused by E85 hasn’t really been an issue since then. Yet, this myth still stuck around. Here are some of the other reasons for the persistent myths about ethanol damaging the vehicle:

  • It’s often confused with methanol that is highly corrosive and will eat the plastic parts within weeks.
  • It’s often confused with ethanol racing fuels that can have corrosive components.
  • It’s often used in vehicles that are not made for it, like normal gas-powered vehicles without a kit.
  • Many of the OEM flex fuel vehicles are poorly made and don’t in fact work well with E85. In these cases, the manufacturer quietly recommends (for example by telling the customer at service) not to use E85 because they know that their vehicle can’t run it properly even though they are approved for it because the manufacturer gets federal credits for making flex fuels, no matter how bad they are.
  • It has been the interest of big oil to spread false information about fuel that can replace their products.
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And, by the way, this is one of many E85 myths. Get the truth on other myths in this article.

You Don’t Have To Worry About Engine & Fuel System Damage With An eFlexFuel E85 Capability Kit On Your Car

Is your vehicle not already compatible with flex fuel? You may be worried about whether E85 is safe to use in your engine when you finally convert to E85. You don’t need to look far to find out. All you need to do is ask us! Our technical team has tested a wide variety of vehicles with E85 (and with one of our kits installed). We’ve also done over 30,000 conversions. Thousands of different vehicles have collectively driven over half a billion miles with the kit installed. So we have a pretty good idea of which vehicles are immune to ethanol.

We don’t sell kits for vehicles that have any risk of having issues with E85. You’re welcome to contact us to find out which category your vehicle falls into!

If you’re looking to convert to E85, you can’t go wrong with an eFlexFuel E85 compatibility kit. eFlexFuel E85 capability kits are a tried-and-true solution for those who are looking to convert to flex fuel. An eFlexFuel E85 capability kit takes control of the fuel injection process to make it optimal for E85. It also comes with an ethanol sensor that’s connected to your vehicle’s fuel line. The sensor monitors the ethanol content in your fuel. The fuel injector signals are adjusted in real-time based on the data sent to the ECM by the sensor. Learn more about how it works here.

Why is Ethanol Bad for Cars?

Joshua Weinstein

Our writers research, try, compare, and recommend only the best products. We’re reader-supported, and may earn commissions when you buy through our links.

Ethanol is a controversial fuel additive. But is it really that bad for cars? And if so, is it ever safe to use ethanol-infused gasoline?

Ethanol can damage many parts of your car at concentrations above 10%. Ethanol can destroy gas tanks, fuel pumps, gaskets, and attract moisture into your fuel. Engines can be completely ruined over time if they’re not designed for ethanol.

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In this article, we’ll cover several of the reasons why ethanol is bad for your car. We’ll also go over when it’s safe to use ethanol in your car, and what types of vehicles can use this inexpensive fuel.

Table of Contents


What is Ethanol?

Ethanol (CH3CH2OH) is flammable alcohol distilled from plants, chiefly corn. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, about 98% of gasoline sold in the US contains some amount of ethanol.


Ethanol is essentially high-proof grain alcohol, but not the kind you should drink. It’s produced in a similar way and has the same clean-burning properties.

Why is Ethanol in Gasoline?

There are multiple reasons why manufacturers add ethanol to conventional gasoline. Ethanol is an octane booster. Companies can combine lower quality gasoline with up to 10% ethanol in still achieve an 87-octane rating.

Ethanol is more «environmentally friendly» than gasoline. It’s made from plants and theoretically unlimited, and its emissions are less harmful. The distillation and refining process of ethanol is also less toxic and ecologically detrimental.

You can make a strong economic argument for ethanol, too, as farmers in many parts of the United States benefit from growing “fuel crops.” Ethanol production uses less costly corn that couldn’t be used for human consumption. Plus, it brings valuable economic growth to rural areas.

True, there are many benefits to using ethanol and gasoline. So what’s all the fuss about? Is ethanol actually bad for your car?

But first, we should distinguish between high-ethanol gas and typical gasoline with ethanol in it. Gasoline with a few percent ethanol won’t ruin your engine, but higher concentrations can cause serious problems if your vehicle isn’t designed to use it.

Ethanol Gasoline Has a Lower Shelf Life

It’s common knowledge that gasoline has an expiration date. Fuel quality degrades over time, and it’ll eventually turn into gel. Ethanol-free gasoline has a shelf life of around 4 to 6 months before it begins to oxidize and go bad. Ethanol has a much shorter shelf life of 1 to 3 months. So what’s with the discrepancy? Why doesn’t ethanol last as long?

Ethanol is a hygroscopic chemical, which means it attracts water. Do the math. Gasoline with a high ethanol content, if allowed to expire, will also have a very high moisture content. This is bad news for almost every component in your car. Contaminated fuel can cause anything from clogged fuel lines to cracked cylinder heads.

Does Ethanol Damage Engines?

So, is ethanol bad for cars, and what does it do to engines? Ethanol-infused gasoline can absolutely damage engines. However, some engines are more vulnerable than others. Here’s what ethanol does to a car and why there’s a good reason to be concerned about using this fuel additive.

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Fuel Tank Damage

Ethanol isn’t a threat to most steel and aluminum fuel tanks. However, ethanol can dissolve resins in fiberglass and composite fuel tanks, which can cause leaks or total tank failure. It doesn’t take long either.

Fuel System Damage

Ethanol is a much stronger solvent than gasoline. It also attracts moisture. Can you think of a component in your fuel system that’s vulnerable to solvents and shouldn’t dry out? That’s right, your seals and gaskets.

Ethanol can rapidly dry out and destroy rubber fuel system components, including gaskets and hoses. Some are designed for ethanol, but most are not, and they can be quickly ruined by ethanol concentrations as low as 15%. That means no E15 in your conventional vehicle.

Moisture Problems

Ethanol’s hygroscopic properties are to blame for many of the problems it causes, including engine issues. Condensation that forms inside your fuel tank on cold days is normally inconsequential—but the presence of ethanol can draw all that water into the fuel.

This can cause all sorts of issues in your engine, including fouling, corrosion, and knocking as the damage intensifies.

Ethanol Works in Flex-Fuel Vehicles

Some vehicles are designed for ethanol. These vehicles are commonly referred to as “flex-fuel“ by manufacturers. Flex-fuel usually means one of two things. Either the vehicle is designed for E15 (15% ethanol) or more potent E85 (85% ethanol). These vehicles can take advantage of cheaper fuel without risking the same catastrophic damage that occurs on regular cars.

To clarify: Flex-fuel vehicles can safely use whatever percentage of ethanol that they’re certified for. Using low ethanol gasoline, such as E10 or less, probably won’t do them much harm either.

Can Old Cars Use Ethanol?

Generally, old cars should avoid ethanol gasoline as much as possible. However, the dose makes the poison, and low levels of ethanol usually don’t do an appreciable amount of damage. However, years of frequent ethanol use can wear out an old motor under the right circumstances.

If you drive a classic car, especially one designed for leaded gasoline, avoid ethanol like the plague. Running one of these old engines with unleaded fuel is hard enough on the valve seats—and dumping ethanol in the mix would be like striking them with a hammer.


Joshua Weinstein

I rebuild & restore classic cars and trucks when I’m not researching and writing about all things automotive. My current project is a 1978 Ford.

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Automotive Expert Explains Why Car Owners Should Not Use E10 Fuel

A new study shows that adding ethanol to gasoline is a bad idea as explained by this well-known automotive expert who makes a strong case against ethanol from corn being added to our E10 fuel. The kicker…it’s likely not what you think is the real problem that should have us worried.

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Ethanol Spiked Gasoline

In an earlier article we learned something about how 85 octane fuel can destroy your engine and void your warranty by a well-known automotive expert on the Engineering Explained YouTube channel. Today we will touch on another fuel-related article that questions the wisdom of adding ethanol created from corn to various grades of gasoline that we pump into our cars daily.

The majority of gasoline sold at the pumps to fuel our cars is E10—a 10% ethanol additive to gasoline that is distilled from corn and is touted for its biodegradable non-toxic properties and its ability to produce cleaner exhaust emissions. All of which are important for better air quality. Some pumps provide E15, which is 15% ethanol, and there has been some argument that we should go even higher based solely on ethanol’s clean-burning properties as a fuel.

However, opposition to adding ethanol to our gasoline has been voiced over concerns such as:

• You get less mileage with ethanol-added gas over non-ethanol added gasoline.

• Ethanol-free gas can last up to six months whereas E10 gas has a maximum three-month shelf life.

• Ethanol can result in contaminating the gasoline in a tank with moisture resulting in poorly burning fuel and premature rusting in the gas tank.

• Older model car engines and possibly some newer model car engine may be adversely affected by ethanol, resulting in lowered engine reliability and life.

While today, fuel efficiency and the argument over buying fuel sippers over gas guzzlers is a hot topic due to the rising costs of gasoline at the pumps and possibly making the first concern a higher priority regarding the ethanol/non-ethanol gas question, another pressing concern typically posed is whether ethanol in your gasoline is actually damaging your car’s engine.

To help alleviate fears of engine damage comparing pure gasoline to a range of ethanol or other alcohol formulations in gasoline, here is a video from the past by Engineering Explained that discusses and shows tests illustrating the effects ethanol has on a gasoline-burning engine.

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Is Ethanol Bad for Your Car’s Engine?

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A Better Reason Why Ethanol Should be Banned from Gasoline

As it turns out, there is a better reason for banning adding ethanol to gasoline that has nothing to do with engine life…but does affect our environmental life.

According to a recent Engineering Explained episode, a new study argues that previous calculations and predictions of just how environmentally friendly ethanol added gasoline compared to non-ethanol gasoline is, are actually wrong-minded when it comes to the actual tally of the environmental carbon emission balance in the end—i.e. the real overall environmental carbon impact of ethanol added to gasoline.

According to the show’s host, “In this video we are going to explain why corn-based ethanol is a dumb idea to use for fuel in your car.”

Here is the video in its entirety which should have all of us rethinking whether we should support the continued adding of ethanol to our cars’ fuel:

America Was Wrong About Ethanol — Study Shows

And finally.

Should we then begin to insist on fueling our vehicles with non-ethanol gasoline? The best advice at this time is to understand that this is only one study that is sure to lead to additional studies that will either support or refute whether pervious impact studies are accurate regarding the savings ethanol can imbue on environmental carbon levels. As pointed out in the video, biofuel sources other than corn (such as sawgrass) may prove to have a markedly less carbon impact and thereby make biofuel added gasoline a good choice over pure gasoline.

Another consideration—especially for modern cars—is that it is prudent to use only the fuel that is recommended by the manufacturer as today’s engine are designed and tweaked for a specific fuel type. Switching to a non-alcohol gasoline for an ethanol-added gas designed engine could potentially adversely affect performance and engine reliability.

For more Engineering Explained car video articles, be sure to check out the following linked articles that offer some very useful and entertaining information on engine performance such as these two popular “Subaru Crosstrek Engine Oil Analysis After 3,000 Mile Test” and “Doing the Math on a Tesla Roadster 0-60 in 1.1 Seconds Claim and What Was Determined” articles.

Timothy Boyer is a Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily new and used vehicle news.

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