Letter Re: E85 Ethanol Compatible Vehicles

I saw 85% Ethanol (E85) for the first time around me at a gas station for $3.49. Plus or minus the lost gas mileage, I will still be paying the same per mile. If I should choose to equip my vehicles with something like FlexTek, which is an electronic module that changes how long the fuel injectors fire, do you think it would be worth it? In other words, do you think ethanol will go up or down compared to gasoline? If the gap continues to separate to more than 50 cents difference, E85 becomes a real option, do you think this is possible?

You are about the only person I can think of with a broad enough spectrum of knowledge to even make an educated guess. Thanks, Andrew D.

JWR Replies: In the new fuel price paradigm, having at least one E85-compatible vehicle is certainly wise. These “Flex Fuel” Vehicles (FFVs) have fuel tanks and fuel lines designed to handle alcohol as well as ignition systems that automatically sense the flash point of the fuel, and compensate accordingly. (Hence, they can run on unleaded gasoline, E85, or any mixture of the two.) I have been recommending buying E85-compatible vehicles in SurvivalBlog since September of 2005. Rather than doing a conversion, which will void most manufacturer’s engine warranties and can even require a gas tank replacement for older vehicles, I generally recommend simply waiting until the next time you replace a vehicle. Finding a FFV is getting easier with each passing year, since they are getting produced in greater numbers by nearly all of the major car and truck makers. The best way to find one is to do a used vehicle search at Edmunds.com, and include the phrase “Flex Fuel” or “FFV”.

It is difficult to predict what will happen with fuel prices. Even given general trends, taxation is a “wild card” that is impossible to predict. But it is just plain common sense to buy the most flexible vehicles and and generators available, especially when getting that flexibility doesn’t cost much more than buying standard single-fuel engines.

If the price of regular gas rises above $4.50 per gallon (and it likely will), I suspect that E85 ethanol will remain under $3.60 per gallon in the Midwest, making it quite cost effective. (Although E85 has a 100 to 105 octane rating, a FFV burning E85 gets 28% fewer miles per gallon than when burning unleaded gasoline.)

As always, regardless of the make and model you choose, I am not in favor of buying factory new cars and trucks. There are huge cost savings in buying a vehicle with 20,000 to 35,000 miles on the odometer.