Gas prices have been painfully high in recent years. As of January 2023, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is around $3.50 source. For drivers with gas-guzzling vehicles or long commutes, the costs can really add up.
One way to save money on fuel is to use an ethanol blend called E85 instead of regular gasoline. E85 is a mix of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Using this alternative fuel can be a smart money-saving strategy if your vehicle is compatible. Here’s what you need to know about using E85 fuel.
What is E85 Fuel?
|Using E85 ethanol fuel can save 20-30% on costs per gallon versus gasoline
|Only flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are compatible with E85’s high ethanol percentage
|E85 reduces fuel efficiency by 25% but cost per mile is often comparable
|Midwest and Great Plains states currently have the most E85 fueling stations
|Maximize savings by checking prices apps and enrolling in fuel discount programs
E85 stands for “85% ethanol fuel.” As the name suggests, it contains 51% to 83% ethanol, with the remaining portion being gasoline. Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It is made by fermenting and distilling crops that are high in sugar content, mainly corn in the United States.
Here are some key facts about E85 fuel:
- Made of 51% to 83% ethanol mixed with gasoline
- Considered a renewable fuel because ethanol is plant-based
- Typically sells for 20% to 30% less per gallon than regular gasoline
- Compatible with flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) specifically designed for higher ethanol blends
Using E85 can be an effective way to save money on fuel since it costs less per gallon than regular gas. However, there are some tradeoffs to understand in terms of fuel efficiency and availability.
Pros of Using E85 Fuel
Here are some of the main benefits of using E85 instead of regular gasoline:
- Cost savings: E85 typically costs 20% to 30% less per gallon because ethanol is cheaper to produce than gasoline. This adds up to major savings over time, especially for drivers with long daily commutes.
- Renewable fuel source: Ethanol is made from corn and other plant materials, so it is considered a renewable fuel. Using E85 produces fewer fossil fuel emissions than gasoline.
- Enhanced performance: Some FFV owners report faster acceleration and more horsepower when using E85 fuel. The higher octane rating of E85 makes it less likely to have engine knock.
- Supports American farmers: Since most ethanol in E85 comes from corn grown in the U.S., using this fuel supports domestic agriculture and reduces dependence on foreign oil imports.
- Government incentives: Some state governments offer E85 incentives like fuel tax exemptions or rebates for installing E85 fueling equipment. This can further reduce costs for E85 users.
With gas prices being so inflated right now, using a cheaper ethanol blend adds up to noticeable savings over time. Drivers interested in cutting fuel costs should consider whether E85 is right for their needs.
Cons of Using E85 Fuel
However, there are also some downsides associated with filling up using ethanol blends instead of regular gasoline:
- Reduced fuel efficiency: FFVs average 20% to 30% fewer miles per gallon using E85 compared to gasoline because ethanol contains less energy per gallon. So while E85 costs less to fill up, you’ll likely have to refuel more often.
- Engine damage concerns: Some auto manufacturers warn that improper conversion of standard vehicles to use E85 could damage seals, gaskets, and other engine parts over time since these components may not be built for prolonged ethanol exposure. Make sure to only use E85 in designated FFVs.
- Availability issues: While E85 is carried at nearly 3,000 gas stations in the U.S., it can still be difficult to find pumps in some regions. Be prepared to go out of your way to refuel with E85, or restrict use to when traveling in ethanol-friendly states.
- Cold weather problems: Ethanol blends are more challenging to ignite in very cold temperatures. This can lead to hard starting issues in frigid winter weather until the engine warms up. Keep an emergency can of gasoline fuel injector cleaner on hand.
Drivers need to weigh increased availability and performance considerations before switching to ethanol. We’ll cover more specifics on compatibility and efficiency next.
What Vehicles Can Use E85 Fuel?
You can’t just start pouring E85 fuel into any old car and expect it to run properly. Only specially designed “flex-fuel vehicles” (FFVs) are intended for high percentage ethanol blends. FFVs have upgraded components like fuel lines, sensor calibrations, and injection systems engineered to handle the corrosive properties and combustion characteristics of ethanol-rich fuels.
Nearly all auto manufacturers offer new FFV models today, including popular brands like:
To confirm whether your vehicle is E85 compatible, you need to check your owner’s manual or the inside of your fuel filler door for an “E85/FlexFuel” sticker. This indicates it’s equipped for handling high ethanol concentrations up to 85%.
You can also use the FlexFuel Vehicle Search Tool database from the Alternative Fuels Data Center to investigate whether particular car makes/models are flex fuel ready from the factory.
Without these proper ethanol design enhancements, pumping E85 into standard gasoline vehicles will likely cause driveability issues, fuel system corrosion, and engine damage over time. Stick to gasoline unless you have an FFV specifically.
How Does E85 Impact Fuel Efficiency and Performance?
Since ethanol molecules contain less energy per gallon than gasoline, FFVs experience 20% to 30% lower fuel economy running on E85 versus gasoline. However, the reduction in miles per gallon is typically offset by E85’s lower pump price.
Here’s an example fuel efficiency comparison if gas is $3.50/gallon and E85 is $2.80/gallon:
- Vehicle’s Gasoline MPG: 30 MPG
- Vehicle’s E85 MPG: 22 MPG (25% reduction is typical)
|Cost per Mile
|Annual Cost (15,000 miles)
Although the vehicle gets fewer MPG from the E85, the cost per mile driven winds up being very similar. E85 makes the most economic sense when its pump discount is higher compared to gasoline.
As for vehicle performance, many FFV owners praise the acceleration and responsiveness when running on E85. This is attributed to ethanol’s higher 105+ octane rating versus 87-93 octane levels for regular gasoline. Higher octane provides more resistance to engine knocking.
Overall, the key deciding factors are whether E85 is widely available in your region and if pump prices are low enough provide a reasonable payback period on the decreased fuel efficiency.
Finding E85 Fueling Stations in Your Area
The next consideration with embracing E85 is locating convenient fueling stations to fill up near home and along regular travel routes. While E85 availability is expanding, it can still be hard to come by depending on what state you live in.
The U.S. Department of Energy provides a user-friendly E85 Station Locator Map where you can enter a zip code to identify stations selling E85 within a custom radius. Those in the Midwest near the main corn-growing regions have the best access right now.
Top 10 states by number of E85 locations:
- Minnesota (344 stations)
- Illinois (328 stations)
- Iowa (310 stations)
- Indiana (307 stations)
- Wisconsin (235 stations)
- Ohio (231 stations)
- South Dakota (144 stations)
- Michigan (137 stations)
- North Dakota (114 stations)
- Missouri (113 stations)
When planning longer trips, reference these data sources to plot out fueling points along your route where E85 pumps are confirmed available.
Cost Savings Tips When Switching to E85
Follow this advice to enjoy more affordable miles per gallon using renewable E85 instead of gasoline:
- Confirm your vehicle’s flex fuel compatibility – Refer to your owner’s manual or the fuel door sticker before filling up to verify E85 is approved for your make/model.
- Get the most updated fuel prices – Check apps to find stations with current E85 prices to calculate potential savings vs. gasoline costs in your area.
- Enroll in discount programs – Sign up for grocery loyalty rewards at fuel centers or retailer fuel saver cards to lower ethanol blend pump prices further via cents per gallon discounts.
- Practice efficient driving habits – Since MPGs decrease on E85, techniques like avoiding rapid acceleration/braking, reducing top speeds, and removing extra weight from your vehicle will help counteract the efficiency gap somewhat.
- Use E85 more selectively – When gas prices fall below $3 per gallon, it may be cheaper to just use regular gasoline instead. Use E85 primarily when market conditions make the price spread attractive.
By following these tips and keeping the pros and cons in mind, an intentional transition to filling up with E85 can lead to impressive seasonal and long-run cost savings. Being an informed consumer makes it easier to take advantage of ethanol economics while driving renewable miles.
Elenor Desmaris, the driving force behind E85Calculator.com, is a fuel efficiency guru committed to helping you maximize your vehicle’s performance. With the Ultimate Guide Fuel Efficiency Calculator, Elenor equips you with the knowledge and tools to optimize your fuel consumption, save money, and reduce your environmental impact. Get ready to embark on a journey towards smarter and greener driving with Elenor’s comprehensive expertise.