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Who Are You Going to Believe: Big Oil — Or 10,000 Miles of Truth?

January 29, 2013

           

The comedian Richard Pryor used to ask, "Who are you going to believe — me or your lying eyes?" That question comes to mind whenever I think about the American Petroleum Institute (API)'s study, which claims to prove that 15 percent ethanol blends (E15) will damage your automobile's engine. So who are you going to trust — Big Oil or a Kansas motorist who's driven 10,000 miles on three vehicles fueled by E15? The oil companies want you to ignore a comprehensive three-year, 88-vehicle, six-million-miles-driven study of E15 conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy using protocols established by the Environmental Protection Agency, and look only at their own American Petroleum Institute-funded study of eight vehicles, some of which had fuel pumps that happened to be under recall.  The only thing one can glean about E15 from the API study is if you test E15 in a vehicle that has been recalled then you just might have some problems. Surprise! Now, guess what API and AAA don't mention when they warn motorists about E15: If you test other aging autos with similar problems — and fuel them with gasoline without any ethanol at all (Call it E-Zero) — you get the same kind of problems. That's what their study says. But don't hold your breath waiting for API to warn motorists against using unblended gasoline — E-Zero. Instead, they want consumers to worry about ever-more-unlikely "hazards," not only in the long-term but in the short-term, too. For instance, API and its allies like AAA have warned motorists about the supposed dangers of "residual volumes" of E15 in gas pump hoses. They claim to be concerned that, if you fuel your car with E10, you could really be getting gasoline blended with more than 10 percent ethanol. Why? Because the previous customer fueled up with E15 — and some of that 15 percent blend was left in the hose. Have they ever tested this theory with a real vehicle and a real gasoline pump? So what happens when you fuel a working vehicle — not one that's straight from the showroom, just one that has some miles on it but hasn't been recalled — with E15? Since mid-July, I've been one of the fortunate customers with E15 available locally — in Eastern Kansas. Once this fuel debuted, I've used it exclusively on my three vehicles — a Jeep and two Chevrolets, none of them flex-fuel. By now, I've logged more than 10,000 total miles. Not once has my "check engine" light lit up. Not once have I noticed any drivability or performance issues. Not once have my vehicles acted any differently than they do on E10. And, despite AAA's "warnings," not once did any of my three vehicles break down on the side of the road, leaving me stranded. Instead, I've enjoyed a higher-octane product at a lower cost with lower overall emissions. And I'm proud to be gassing up my vehicles with a fuel that now contains 50 percent more of a locally produced, job-creating, economy-boosting product — American ethanol. In addition to "warning" motorists about damage to their vehicles, Big Oil has one more scare tactic: If you use E15, it will void your warranty. In fact, before a claim could be denied, an automaker would have to prove that the fuel caused the damage. That's provided by federal law — the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975. Once again, my experience is instructive. I recently had a warranty claim — not fuel-related — on my personal 2011 Chevrolet. Even though my Chevy runs on E15, the claim was processed without incident — and at no cost to me. So who are you going to believe? Big Oil? Or a motorist who's logged 10,000 miles on E15?