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E85 Pros and Cons

Writer - John Linden

When you peel that Ford cover off your Flex FWD to head to the station and fill up with E85, just what is being accomplished? People have been debating the benefits of E85 for decades. This cleaner burning fuel can make America less dependent on foreign oil, but is it all worth it? The American government has been subsidizing the production and distribution for this fuel because it very well could be the answer to many problems. Here are the pro’s and con’s so you can decide.


  1. It’s a renewable fuel. Unlike the fossil fuels we are so dependent on, E85 is derived from starch crops like corn that can be quickly replenished.
  2. Less foreign dependency. As stated before, America is heavily reliant on other countries for the source of our fuel. Generating our own fuel supply would make us a more self-sufficient nation. This isn’t a new concept, as countries like Brazil and Sweden have answered their oil crises in this way.
  3. Higher detonation temperature. At a combustion temp of 689 F, this fuel source is far less likely to prematurely detonate in your engine’s combustion chamber. This is partly what makes E85 so popular among racing enthusiasts.
  4. It’s cleaner burning. Unlike the billows of black smoke you see coming from old exhausts, E85 is a cleaner burning fuel. This minimizes harmful deposits that can build up in your engine in addition to reducing outdoor car smog.
  5. Cooler intake charge. Another benefit that appeals to gear heads is E85’s cooling effect. Ethanol is a denatured alcohol that creates a slight cooling effect when passing through the intake tract. This ultimately leads to increased performance.


  1. It’s potentially damaging. E85 is not corrosive in nature, but does attract moisture; and water is bad news for engines. It can also damage rubber seals, gaskets, and other non-metallic components.
  2. It can be costly to retrofit. Vehicles produced before 1987 are not E85 compatible. Many, if not all, fuel system components will have to be replaced to transform most vehicles to a flex fuel system.
  3. Not quite environmentally friendly. While ethanol does burn cleaner than gas, meaning less smog, flex fuel cars still produce roughly the same amount of greenhouse gases as their fossil fuel counterparts.
  4. Not as efficient. A car running on E85 has about 80% the efficiency of the same car running on gasoline. While you might be saving at the pump, you’re probably coming back to top off your tank more often.
  5. Bad in cold weather. E85 got its name because it is 85% ethanol mixed with 15% gasoline. It’s not 100% ethanol because the gasoline helps the ethanol ignite at lower temps. Colder climates may actually require E70 or lower because the high ignition temperature of the ethanol will keep your car from starting in a blizzard.

Before you fully commit yourself a steadfast position on the old debate, understand that the gas you’re using now is probably 10% ethanol. With government subsidies and more demand for flex fuel vehicles, E85 is trending toward the fuel of the future. While it is still expensive and not as enviro-friendly as we once hoped, cost will fall as production increases. Will it be enough for you to take the plunge?

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