AAA has warned against potential damage that a new blend of gasoline could do to some engines. And the warning has started a fight over renewable fuels and the future of what we put in our gas tanks.
The fuel is called E15 — named for the percentage of ethanol in the blend. Most of the gas that's sold in the U.S. has about 10 percent ethanol in it.
The Environmental Protection Agency has certified that all vehicles from 2001 and newer can run on E15. But, says Eric Evarts with Consumer Reports, many automakers "have said that they will not honor warrantees for cars running on E15, even among the cars that the EPA says can run it."
Companies who say their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15 — BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen
Companies who say E15 may void warranty coverage — GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo
Vehicles approved by automakers to use E15 — flex-fuel models; 2001 model-year and newer Porsches; 2012 model-year and newer GM vehicles; and 2013 model-year Ford vehicles
That's because many automakers are worried that the new mix of fuel can damage the fuel lines in your car over time.
"We're not opposed to ethanol, we're not opposed to ethanol being added to gasoline. Our concern is that the E15 blend is one that has the potential to do damage to people's vehicles if they inadvertently put it in their gas tank," says AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet.
AAA wants to suspend sales of E15 gasoline. The group surveyed its members, and 95 percent of them didn't know what it was.
"We are opposed to E15 being made available to consumers who have not been adequately informed of the consequences of using the product, nor have they been adequately informed of whether or not they could put it in their vehicle without risking violating their warranty," Darbelnet says.
Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry trade group, points out that E15 is available in only a handful of gas stations. He says there's plenty of time to educate drivers about the new fuel.
"I think AAA has been sidling up to the big oil companies a little too much, and their concerns about E15 are completely misplaced," Dinneen says. "It's really about the future and other advanced biofuels that, if demonstrated to be viable commercially, can take not 10 percent of the barrel, but a third or 40 or 50 percent of the barrel. That's what this is about."
Meanwhile, the EPA says it's working to let consumers know which cars can and cannot use E15.
But unless laws change, it's still on the way to gas stations soon.