Don't put the wrong gas in your mower or blower

Warnings about ethanol in small engines hit high gear

Published: November 01, 2013 03:00 PM

For years, people would get gas for their mowers and snow blowers at the same time they filled up the car. Whatever went into the car went into the gas can. But when gas stations started selling gasoline with 10-percent ethanol (E10), homeowners and repair shops began noticing problems with small power equipment such as corroded parts and engines that ran hotter and broke sooner. Now with the introduction of gas with 15-percent ethanol, which can be more damaging, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute has stepped in with a program called Look Before You Pump.

With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's approval of E15 gasoline for use in cars from 2001 or later, it’s become a choice at more and more gas stations. “The more ethanol in gasoline, the more acute the effects,” said Marv Klowak, a vice president at Briggs & Stratton, the largest manufacturer of small engines. And even though the EPA prohibits E15 for use in smaller engines, the 3x3-inch warning label on gas pumps is barely discernible among all the other labels, ads, and signs. “If you’ve fueled your product the same way for 10, 20, or even 50 years, that 3x3-inch pump label is not going to change that behavior,” Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the OPEI, said.

Kiser said he hoped the new campaign would grab more attention. “Our message is super simple, and we’re going to say it whenever we can, to whoever we can, and as often as possible—to look before you pump,” Kiser said. The industry group has begun distributing hang-tags, in-store displays, fact sheets, posters, and other materials to big fuel users such as equipment dealers, distributors, and landscapers. On tap are radio and video public-service announcements to reach the owners of 3 million pieces of outdoor power equipment.

At last week’s Green Industry & Equipment Expo show in Louisville, Ky., we saw many more companies selling ethanol-free fuel by the can. Briggs & Stratton showed its new Advanced Formula Ethanol Free Fuel, sold at home centers. Husqvarna also showed similar products it will sell through its dealers, as does Stihl with its Motomix fuel. You’ll also find ethanol-free fuel at Sears, Home Depot, and Lowe’s for about $5 to $8 a quart—expensive, but cheaper than a new carburetor or engine.

If you find that ethanol-free fuel costs too much, at least buy enough for the first and last fuelings of the season. In between, add stabilizer to pumped gasoline. Sta-Bil’s line includes one that claims to protect your engine from ethanol. You should also run your gear often. And at the end of the season, run your equipment dry and drain the carburetor bowl.

—Ed Perratore

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