CLEVELAND - Now that you're ready to start your lawn mowers and other equipment this spring, you may find your machines don't start.
Scott Gordon is the service manager at an outdoor equipment company near Cleveland, Ohio. He sees mowers, saws and generators that won't start, every day.
"Everybody's finding, 'Well I used to be able to leave the gas in my equipment and it didn't have a problem, how come it does now?' And then we have to explain about the ethanol and fuel and how it's attacking the carburetors," Gordon said.
Most regular unleaded gasoline sold at pumps today is E10, or a blend of 10 percent ethanol with gasoline. Most Ohio consumers don't know this, because Ohio is one of several states do not require stations to post this information at the pump.
While newer cars, trucks and motorcycles have the technical ability to handle the mixture of ethanol and gas, smaller and older machines and engines do not.
Ethanol draws moisture out of the air. That moisture becomes water in the fuel. When that watery mixture gets into a carburetor and rubberized parts, corrosion becomes a real problem.
Gordon said as little as two months may be all it takes for a machine left with fuel inside to ruin a carburetor. And depending on the machine, replacement parts can be so expensive that it may make more sense to simply buy a new machine.
Gordon called generators his most important example as to why consumers should know more about what is in the gas they buy. Most people use generators as a backup for emergencies. If a consumer does not frequently rotate the the generator's fuel, a family's backup plan for power could fail.
"If the power goes out and you have a whole house generator, you've got to totally change the way you prepare for emergencies," Gordon said. "My best recommendation is to make sure your generator is empty and run dry of all fuel for storage. Then have a supply of fuel handy, so that when the power goes out you can put it in. That supply of fuel should be rotated out on a monthly basis."
He recommended putting the rotated fuel for your generator into your car, and then replacing your generator's fuel supply.
In the meantime, consumers have a few options to protect their smaller machines from the E10 sold at gas stations today. Gordon suggested trying specialized alternative fuel with no ethanol added. It can be expensive -- about $9 a quart. But Gordon points out it has a five year shelf-live unopened, and it will last for two years in your machine.
And if you are curious to know how much ethanol you are putting into your car, there are home test kits. Our consumer investigative team tested some gas from random stations around the region and found most samples were up to 10 percent ethanol.
If E10 is damaging smaller engines, what would a 15 percent ethanol blend with gas do to them? And would E15 be safe for cars and trucks?
The U.S. EPA wants to introduce E15 at gas stations across the country. EPA leaders said they believe E15 is safe for cars from the 2001 model year, and newer. But they admit E15 should not be used for model years older than 2000, motorcycles, heavy-duty engines like buses, lawn mowers, chain saws, and other small machines.
Automakers and other groups don't agree with the EPA's assessment. There is current litigation attempting to block E15 from being sold at stations.
And in February, the House voted to block the EPA from allowing sales of E15.
While the fight over E15 sales continues, it looks like E10 is here to stay, as the nation tries to use cleaner buring fuel.