February 7, 2016

AAA warns E15 could damage vehicles

An auto club wants to stop the sale of E15 fuel, citing consumer confusion.

With less than 5 percent of cars on the road approved by automakers to use the fuel, AAA urges regulators to suspend E15 sales to protect motorists. Pam Moen of AAA Wisconsin says a recent survey by the auto club finds 95 percent of consumers have not heard of E15, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent approval of the gasoline blend that contains up to 15 percent ethanol.

“The problem is that 95 percent of the vehicles on the road today are not compatible with E15 gasoline and it’s not an approved fuel that manufacturers are recommending putting in most cars that are currently on the road.”

The EPA gave the thumbs up in June of this year to sell the product at gas stations nationwide for use in 2001 and newer vehicles. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was thrilled. “This gets us one step closer to giving the American consumer a real choice at the pump.” But Moen warns, the public isn’t sufficiently educated about the higher ethanol blend of fuel.

Moen says there’s a potential for voided warranties and vehicle damage with the misuse of E15. Following the EPA’s approval, Moen says retail sales could grow quickly in states whose regulations allow its sale. And, consumers are likely to be attracted to the cheaper price at the pump. The higher blend of ethanol — a corn-based additive — is not yet available in Wisconsin, according to Moen, but she says it’s important to educate consumers now.

“And so we’re trying to get out in front of that and just make sure that regulators in the industry proceed with caution and make sure that they’re not widely selling the product until the proper labeling and consumer education can be ensured.” Moen says her group is not opposed to the fuel, they simply want to make sure consumers know what they’re putting into their vehicles.

After reviewing available research, automotive engineering experts at AAA say sustained use of E15 in both newer and older vehicles not approved for this blend of fuel could result in significant problems, including accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false “check engine” lights.

AAA urges fuel producers and regulators to educate consumers about potential dangers of E15 before selling the special blend of gasoline.

U.S. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin agrees with AAA. In a statement the congressman says, “AAA’s findings affirm what we have already heard — E15 causes premature engine damage and voids warranties, even on new models,” he continues, “Concerns about E15 are not diminishing, they are increasing. That is telling. When an organization like AAA, a nationally trusted source for motorists, calls out the EPA, you would think the Administration would listen.”

Sensenbrenner had introduced legislation to do exactly what AAA recommends. “My legislation (H.R. 3199) would require the EPA to task the National Academies of Science with conducting an unbiased study of E15.”

Meanwhile, a representative of the bio industry says AAA’s statement is “misplaced”  and a “veiled attempt by Big Oil to stop consumers from benefiting from its use.” Josh Morby, executive director of the Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance, says, “E15 is the most extensively tested fuel in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency. As part of the approval process, the EPA has also established a throughout consumer education program.”

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:54

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