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Is Your Vehicle E85 Ready?

By Jeanette Joy Fisher

Many people wonder about the ethanol/gas mixture known as E85, named for the 85% ethanol that mixture contains, and whether or not their vehicles will run on it. You may be surprised to learn that there have already been some two million vehicles sold in America that can run on E85 with no modification at all. Check your vehicle’s owners manual or contact your dealer to find out if yours is a Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV).

The key is fuel injection. When vehicles had carburetors, engines needed to be modified to run on E85. However, most modern vehicles are fuel injected, using an oxygen sensor to control the air/fuel mixture to run the engine most efficiently. That sensor is controlled by a computer chip, and even if your particular vehicle doesn't currently have the chip necessary to allow it to run on E85, it can often be changed to the chip that will make that possible. Again, first check with your dealer to see if your own vehicle’s chip can be changed--if it isn't already able to use E85.

If your vehicle can run on E85, you can thank the Brazilians, because way back in the early 1980s, the Brazilian government mandated that all new vehicles in that country be able to run on 180-proof alcohol. That legislation forced automakers like Ford and GM to begin making vehicles that would meet that criteria if they wanted to continue selling to consumers in Brazil.

Since then, worldwide consumer demand for vehicles that can run on E85 has continued to increase. For example, in 2005, the demand in Sweden for FFVs outstripped the demand for standard fuel vehicles by more than four to one, according to Ford statistics. As is the case in America, worldwide demand is driven by whatever is cheapest, and E85 is often as much as $1.00/gallon less at the pump, which is a significant savings--no matter what country you live in.

Since 1997, Swedish drivers have been able to choose the amount of ethanol they want to mix with their gasoline--right at the pump. They can choose the exact percentage of ethanol they want at the moment, depending upon their engine, and even upon the weather conditions, since E85 has some issues when it comes to extreme cold, which Sweden has plenty of during their long Scandinavian winters. They simply dial in whatever mixture they want at the moment, and then pump it into their vehicles. As more tax incentives are introduced in the rest of the European Economic Union (EU), such mixing options will become increasingly available in other countries, as well.

Copyright 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher

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