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Power gear group warns against high-ethanol gas

Store signs highlight damaging effects of E15 gas

Published: March 11, 2014 02:45 PM

The gasoline most of us put into our cars and outdoor gear, with 10-percent ethanol, is available nationwide, and we pump E10 without a second thought. But a newer form of gas is good for only some cars—and a nightmare for outdoor power equipment. Nothing, in fact, warns you against filling up your mower, string trimmer, or gas can other than a little 3x3-inch warning label that competes for your attention with larger, bolder ads on the gas pump. So the outdoor power equipment trade group is waving the warning flag in Lowe’s, Walmart, and other stores.

That newer form of gasoline, called E15, has 15-percent ethanol, and ethanol causes small engines to run hotter and draw in water, which makes for tougher starting and eventually ruins seals, tubing, and linkages—all of which affect durability. Already 59 gas stations in 12 states carry E15, and the list is growing. If your car is newer than model year 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says using E15 is fine. For outdoor power equipment, the little sticker warns, “it may cause damage and is prohibited by federal law.” The industry’s trade group, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, knows that if you put E15 gas into your power gear and it overheats and quits, you might kick yourself for putting in “prohibited” gas.

It's not the machine, it's the gas
More likely, though, you’ll curse the manufacturer and swear never to buy that brand again—especially when you learn that practically no product warranty covers damage resulting from using gasoline with ethanol higher than 10 percent. OPEI last year began the program, Look Before You Pump, to educate and protect consumers and manufacturers. But more recently, the group has ramped up the program further, with warning signs displayed near the price tags in stores.

Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the OPEI, emphasized that before the debut of E15, you could opt for the cheapest fuel for your outdoor power equipment and do fine. But because the price of ethanol periodically rises or falls relative to the price of pure gasoline, E15 gas might occasionally be cheaper than E10. “Price is no longer the way to choose your fuel,” he said at last year’s Green Industry & Equipment Expo show. “You have to choose the right fuel.”

The new signs are already appearing in Walmart, such as in the Berry, Ark., store where the photo was shot, and in Lowe’s stores. As shown, a prominent, red hand symbol indicates “OK” for E10 and “No” for higher blends with more ethanol. Both will also highlight the program in its circulars, and True Value will feature the ad on the back cover of its spring outdoor-product catalog.

No precautions will help if you inadvertently fuel up your outdoor equipment with E15, but with some extra TLC you can avert the still-real effects of E10 gasoline. First, use only fresh gas to which you have added fuel stabilizer; formulas designed to counteract ethanol are probably your best bet. Start your machine periodically even if you don’t need it. And run it dry before long-term storage, such as over the winter or summer.

Should you need a new mower or string trimmer, view our buying guides for lawn mowers and string trimmers before checking out our Ratings for mowers, tractors, and string trimmers.

—Ed Perratore

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