In the years since Missouri law mandated blending ethanol with gasoline, the debate has raged in coffee shops around the Ozarks. Many farmers are happy for the blend requirements as the higher demand for their crops helps their bottomline, but ranchers fear higher feed prices. Once that argument fades, then the efficiency debate begins. The debate is strongest when small engines are discussed.
Those that spend a lot of time running 2-cycle engines are often especially opinionated. Wayne Crosby, owner of LSK Suzuki in Lebanon, Mo., suggested combating some of the problems frequent with ethanol blends by making smaller mixtures at a time. “Today’s fuel has a shelf life of 30 days or so,” Wayne said, so he recommended only fueling your ATV or other small engine with the amount of fuel you think you will use in 3 weeks. If you don’t use your engine frequently, he also recommended adding a stabilizer to your fuel.
He also warned that the 2-cycle oil doesn’t blend with the ethanol well, so mixture that is left in a fuel tank will separate out over time. That means, if you start your engine without mixing the tank, your engine will be trying to start on pure alcohol instead of a gas/oil mixture. That is very hard on the pistons and cylinders. Ethanol also has a tendency to draw water, which is also big trouble for your fuel system. Condensation in a fuel system causes the engine to run unevenly in warm weather, and in the cold weather, the water condensation can freeze up your fuel line or carburetor and leave you stranded.
You can fight both of these problems by leaving your 2-cycle engine with an empty tank. If you have extra fuel left over in your container, shake it well before you use it. Ethanol is also prone to dissolve rubber fuel lines.
Denny Franks, the service manager at Mega Motorsports in West Plains, Mo., said, “Don’t use ethanol blends in an ATV; it will gum up carburetors and eat fuel lines and fittings. Always use high octane fuel.”
Wayne identified the fact that it is hard to know exactly what blend you are buying. Some stations may label the same blends differently, so he recommended testing the fuel yourself. To find out the exact ethanol content of the fuel you normally buy, measure some fuel into a graduated cylinder, beaker or other measuring device, then add a measured amount of water and shake it up. The ethanol bonds with the water, so if you measure the total water in the container after it settles out, and subtract the amount of water you added, you know how much alcohol was in the fuel.
However, there are also many people, such as Quentin Grubbs of Freedom Powersports in Rogers, Ark., who don’t see a significant problem with ethanol blends. Many newer ATVs have fuel lines and fittings that are built to withstand ethanol. Also, lots of users are willing to put up with a few extra hassles to help do their part to cut dependence on foreign oil.    
Whichever stance you take, or whatever your personal opinion, the debate is sure to last longer than your cup of coffee.


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