Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ethanol - Destroying your Small Engine?

Well, it might not destroy it but it will definitely damage parts of your small engine. I have a considerable number of gas operated machines to take care of my property. Most of them I inherited, I could never afford to buy all these yard machines. But since I have them I use them and maintain them. My goal is to make them last my lifetime or at least as long as possible. Each spring I change all the filters, change the oil, lubricate anything that moves, sharpen the blades, tighten bolts, weld any breaks or cracks, and touch up paint where it is needed. I do this as needed during the season it is used, and then winterize everything in the fall. I drain any unused fuel and run the motor until the carburetor is dry.

Even so, I have had to take various pieces of equipment to the shop because the carburetor was gunked up or because the fuel line failed. I took my trusty old Sears Craftsman chain saw in to get a new fuel line in March and it cost me almost $80, most of that being labor. A brand new saw from Sears is only $189. So when my leaf blower fuel line collapsed in the fuel tank I decided to try and fix it my self.

First off, what is happening to the fuel lines? Ethanol fuel has varying percentages of Ethanol, an alcohol mostly made from corn in the United States, mixed in with the gas. (Ethanol 85, or E15, is 15% alcohol.) The Environmental Protection Agency has approved gasoline with 15 percent ethanol for use in cars year 2001 or newer, but it prohibits its use in mowers and other power equipment, stating it may cause damage. A Department of Energy study found that E15 caused hotter operating temperatures, erratic running, and engine-part failure. Did you know that? 

Alcohol and gasoline mix better than water and oil but they don't mix perfectly. And alcohol has some properties that are not really healthy for gasoline motors. For one thing, it attracts water and if you try to store Ethanol gas for any length of time you will get moisture in the fuel. This greatly degrades the energy output of the fuel and causes rust. 

"Ethanol has inherent properties that can cause corrosion of metal parts, including carburetors, degradation of plastic and rubber components, harder starting, and reduced engine life," says Marv Klowak, global vice president of research and development for Briggs & Stratton, the largest manufacturer of small engines. "The higher the ethanol content, the more acute the effects." Servicing dealers are reporting similar problems, even with E10, according to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the industry's trade group.

But what happened to my fuel lines? They were dissolved by the alcohol. Below is what was left of the fuel line to my leaf blower:

The plastic tubing was brittle and crumbled in my fingers. The dark piece of tube on the left was the line going into the fuel tank and the bits and pieces and longer piece on the right were inside the fuel tank. If you look closely at the longer piece on the right you will see dozens of tiny cracks in what is supposed to be flexible tubing. 

So I took off the outer casing of the left blower, five star-head screws held it on, and the fuel tank just had a pressure fitting holding it on. The fuel line fell apart so there was no need to remove it but I did have to get all the bits and the fuel filter out of the tank.

I bought a two-line pack at Lowes but you could get it at any hardware store. I had no idea the size of the fuel line so I bought a pack with the two most common sizes. If I have to do this again I'll look up the fuel line size on the Internet but I was over in town for another project and I didn't want to go home and then come back later.

Installation was easy enough. I squeezed the tubing through the hole in the side of the fuel tank.
Then you have to run enough through so that you can attach the weighted fuel filter.
Then pull the tubing back until the filter rests on the bottom of the tank. Once that is done attach the fuel line to the carburetor or splicing point, whatever you removed the old fuel line from.

 With my new fuel line installed I filled the tank with fresh fuel, pumped the primer a couple times, and stated the motor. It ran like a champ and only cost me $2.89 for the parts. That is a big savings!

As of March I now only buy non-Ethanol gasoline, which in my area means I have to pay for Premium gas (91 Octane). It is about 60-80 cents a gallon more expensive than Regular Unleaded and I have to drive 25 miles to get it but I also buy my "Off-Road" diesel there so I try to time my fuel runs to get a couple cans of various fuels at one time.