Ethanol, specifically E10 (10 percent ethanol blended with gasoline), can be a relatively safe fuel alternative for collector Camaros or any collector vehicle actually. E10 ethanol based gasoline, being what most of us have been using in our fuel tanks regularly for the past two decades and in most cases without knowing it, goes to show how safe it can be. If you have rebuilt the fuel system in your classic Camaro recently then you should have had few if any problems running it on E10 ethanol gasoline. Because this is a Chevy Camaro site I will be talking about Camaros mostly but this information can also pertain to any collector vehicle.
What is Ethanol:
Ethanol is an alcohol made from corn, sugar cane and other grains. In automotive fuels it is used as an oxygenate. It
promotes clear burning and helps increase octane. One good thing (but in excess potentially a bad thing) it does is absorb water which means it will prevent fuel lines from freezing and it will limit the corrosion caused by water in the tank. The ethanol in E10 is also a solvent that will loosen sludge, varnish and dirt that has built up in your fuel tank.
What does it mean to my Chevy Camaro:
There are certain potential hazards and unwanted side effects associated with using E10 in your Camaro. Your vehicle will consume more fuel especially if you use E85 which officially and generally stated by the ethanol industry as a 25% to 30% drop. This is because ethanol contains less energy than gasoline despite a higher natural octane number. The fact that it does help loosen sludge in your fuel tank can cause problems with clogged lines and filters as well as block carburetor jets and fuel injectors. After all those loosened particles have to go somewhere.
Collector car enthusiasts need to be careful about using ethanol in vehicles that will be stored for long periods of time. While ethanol will absorb some water there is a limit to what it can absorb. Large amounts of condensation will cause the ethanol and water to separate causing the water to sink to the bottom of the tank where the fuel pickup is located. Make sure, no matter what type of fuel is used, that if you are going to store your vehicle for an extended period of time that you take precautions. To reduce possible damage to your gas tank you should either completely empty it or fill it up full. Also don’t forget to add fuel stabilizer to your fuel should you decide to leave gas in your tank.
Another potentially serious problem with ethanol is that it can be incompatible with older rubber compounds. Also in higher concentrations it can cause corrosion to steel and aluminum that is a part of older Camaro fuel systems.
What can I do to my Camaro to reduce the damage of E10 ethanol:
If your Camaro hasn’t been rebuilt/restored in the last 10 to 15 years you should really think about replacing all gaskets, seals and rubber fuel lines. Also fuel filters or screens should be replaced or at the very least cleaned. It would also be a good idea to pull the fuel tank, drain it and clean it out to remove dirt and sludge before the ethanol can loosen it up. This should certainly be done before filling up and starting your Camaro if it has been sitting for a long time whether it was prepared properly or not. To combat corrosion you can use a gas tank sealer impervious to ethanol.
If your Camaro (or any vehicle) was built to run on leaded fuel and hasn’t had hardened valve seats installed you might also want to consider using an anti-valve seat recession additive no matter what fuel type you use these days. However, there has been lots of talk of whether hardened valve seats are really needed. Some have found that hardened valve seats aren’t required for normal daily driving where the engine is not subjected to extreme heat. So unless you are drag racing, pulling a heavy load constantly (i.e., a truck towing a trailer), have a turbo charger or something similar that puts a lot of RPM’s and a lot of heat (like where the exhaust starts to get red, running lean EPA-style mixtures), then there was no big problem running unleaded in an engine without hardened seats.
What about higher concentrations of ethanol like E85:
E85 is a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Unless your car or truck is designated as a “flex-fuel” vehicle you should not use E85. If you run E85 in older cars (pre-1995 that are designed for gasoline) then your car may be severely damaged. It can cause damage to seals and hoses along with causing corrosion throughout the fuel system. It can also wash lubrication off the engine’s cylinder walls. The hydroxyl group on the ethanol molecule is an extremely weak acid, but it can enhance corrosion for some natural materials.
For ethanol contaminated with larger amounts of water (i.e., approximately 11% water, 89% ethanol), considerable engine wear will occur. This wear is especially harsh during times while the engine is heating up to normal operating temperatures. Just after starting the engine low temperature partial combustion of the water-contaminated ethanol mixture takes place and causes engine wear. This wear, caused by water-contaminated E85, is the result of the combustion process of ethanol, water, and gasoline producing considerable amounts of formic acid (also known as methanoic acid). In addition to the production of formic acid occurring for water-contaminated E85, smaller amounts of acetaldehyde and acetic acid are also formed for water-contaminated ethanol combustion. Of these partial combustion products, formic acid is responsible for the majority of the rapid increase in engine wear.
Engines specifically designed for flex fuels employ soft nitride coatings on their internal metal parts to provide resistance to formic acid wear in the event of water contamination of E85 fuel. Also, the use of lubricant oil (motor oil) containing an acid neutralizer is necessary to prevent the damage of oil-lubricated engine parts in the event of water contamination of fuel. Since older cars are not protected from formic acid the use of E85 is not recommended.