Letter Re: E85 Ethanol Compatibility and the EMP Protection Quandary

My 1988 Ford F-250 pickup runs fine on a 50/50 mixture of E85 and regular gasoline. I can run E85, but it will not start using just E85, it just won’t fire. – CRZ

JWR Replies:  The only vehicles that seem to do very well running the E85 ethanol blend are those that have been specifically designed for it. This is because they include an electronic sensor to detect the relative flash point of  the fuel.  This adjusts the fuel/air mixture “on the fly”, even if you pump your tank full of regular unleaded gasoline, or all E85, or anything in between. (Most likely this will be dictated by what is less expensive on any given day.)   Yes, I know this is an electronic sensor, so there tradeoff is between fuel flexibility and EMP protection.  Chalk this up as more evidence that “There Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” (TANSTAAFL.) The inelegant solution to this quandary is simply to have two utility vehicles at your retreat:  One that is modern and multi-fuel capable, and another that is single fuel but that uses a bomb proof old fashioned electrical system.  (Either a traditional diesel, or a gas engine with a traditional points/condenser ignition system and no electronic fuel injection.)

I’m confident that E85 compatible rigs will become more commonplace in the next few years, as Detroit’s engineers get some common sense in Post-Katrina/Post-fuel price shock America. But for now, finding an E85-compatible vehicle can be difficult and time consuming. For survival use, the ones that look the most promising to me are:

2004 Ford Explorers with 4.0 liter engines.

2005-2006 GMC/Chevrolet Suburbans, Tahoes, Yukons, and 2500HD Pickups with 5.3 liter Vortec engines.

1998-2003 Dodge Caravans with 3.3 liter engines. (Yes, I know that they have marginal ground clearance and towing capacity, but they do make a 4WD version, and Caravans get 20 MPG, which is important these days.)

As stated in previous posts about alternate fuel vehicles, you must look closely at the vehicle specifications of a prospective purchase before you buy. (A buyer’s guide in PDF is available for download from the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.) In many cases it is just selected “fleet purchase” vehicles that can run on E85, so you have to look at specifications right down to a particular digit in the VIN number to be sure. Some vehicles have a special sticker inside the gas cap door, indicating that they are E85 compatible.