Many new vehicles have a yellow ring to show E85 is allowed.
(image by Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press)
Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press
With gas prices pushing $4 a gallon in many parts of the nation, drivers may be tempted to try a less-expensive alternative -- E85, an ethanol blend -- which is selling in a limited number of stations for 40 to 60 cents less per gallon.
But experts warn that E85 is for flex-fuel vehicles only. Putting E85 into a car not designed to run on it can damage the engine.
And, they add, while E85 may save at the pump, your overall fuel efficiency will be diminished by as much as 25% to 30%.
"Right now, the price of ethanol is cheaper than gasoline," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with the Oil Price Information Service. He added that the lower price, however, is offset because it gets lower gas mileage.
"Does it even out?" he said. "You have to look at the price and figure it out."
But doing the math each time you go to the pump can be tedious -- and complex. There are several variables to take into account: You may not be running on a full tank of E85, various mixes of the fuels in your tank will give you different mileage and the price of the fuels changes daily.
To help, AAA, which tracks gas prices nationally and by state, calculates the average adjusted price of E85 nationally, based on the lower gas mileage. The national average for regular gas is $3.75 and the adjusted price for E85 is $4.39.
AAA posts the national average gas prices online daily atwww.fuelgaugereport.com.
Michael Long, who sells Ford vehicles for a living at Royal Oak Ford in Michigan, said he recently tried using E85, but noticed his miles-per-gallon dropped.
"For the difference in price and fuel economy, it's not going to work for me," he said he decided.
And occasionally, he said, he gets a call from a customer who accidently put the fuel in a car that wasn't designed to use it -- a costly mistake.
E85 also is not sold at every gas station, and depending on where you are, could be difficult to find.
Still, advocates of the alternative fuel say that price isn't the only reason to use the fuel. Ethanol is a form of renewable energy that can be produced from agricultural crops, such as corn, and E85 also helps reduce American dependence on oil.