Even outdoor power-equipment owners who maintain their gear aren't happy about ethanol. Gasoline alone can gum up the carburetor and fuel lines of mowers and blowers if it's left sitting too long in the fuel tank. But when ethanol is added to gas, as it is almost everywhere, similar neglect can result in the stiffening of rubber and plastic parts and the crusting up of carburetor parts that are supposed to move freely. Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market that address this issue.
Fuel that's 10-percent ethanol, E10, is sold in all but a smattering of stations. To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the sale of E15 (15-percent ethanol) gasoline for newer cars. Many questions remain, however, including whether E10 gas will still be readily available in stations that have begun selling E15. And if you inadvertently put E15 in lawn care equipment, there might be no recourse: No conclusive tests have shown it is safe to run small, non-road engines on E15. As a result, makers of outdoor gear and related engines will not honor the warranty of a product that fails due to the use of E15.
Last fall, we mentioned a specially formulated ethanol-free fuel, Stihl's Motomix, that's sold by the quart at certain Stihl dealerships. Though $8 a quart—that's more than $30 a gallon—the two-cycle gas/oil mix still seems a bargain compared to taking a string trimmer or leaf blower into the shop a few times a year. As it turns out, Motomix is just one of many such options, and the others cost less. Consumer Reports hasn't tested any of these, but here's a rundown of what's available:
• TruFuel, in three varieties, is sold at Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart and other retailers. The ethanol-free four-cycle gas costs $5.48 per quart at Lowe's. (Of other retailers that sell it, Home Depot and Walmart don't appear to sell it online.) The two-cycle 50:1 gas/oil mix costs $5.48 a quart at Home Depot and Lowe's, which also sells the 40:1 mixture online.
• At Sears, ethanol-free fuels in four-and two-cycle varieties are sold online and in stores. (Kmart also carries these products, all of which are made by TruSouth, maker of TruFuel.) The "pure" Craftsman gas costs $6.99 a quart, though you can lower that price to $5.81 a quart by buying a six-pack (the brand is Arnold, a division of outdoor-gear manufacturer MTD), sold by Wholesale Tools from the same website. Both the 50:1 two-cycle gas/oil mixture and the 40:1 two-cycle mixture cost $5.49 a quart.
• VP Racing Fuels sells SEF (Small Engine Fuel) in all three varieties through distributors, relatively small retailers, and the company's website. Unlike the TruSouth product, which is 92-octane, SEF is 94. All three varieties are sold by the six-pack for $43.95, which comes out to about $7.33 per quart.
Of course, when buying such products online you have to factor in the cost of shipping products that weigh about two pounds per quart. Compared to the cost of a repair, using these products in small power equipment makes good sense. But using them in your lawn mower or snow blower exclusively (let alone a riding mower) might cost so much per season that you'd find it cheaper to hire the job out.
A representative of TruSouth says TruFuel is suitable even for storage in such larger gear as mowers and snow blowers. But if you're skittish, use the ethanol-free stuff for the last fill-up of the season and run it dry. If your lawn gear has already given up the ghost, see our Ratings of mowers, string trimmers and leaf blowers.