AAA warns about the use of a gasoline blend with up to 15% ethanol.
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The use of a gasoline blend with a higher percentage of ethanol could damage cars and void warranties, travel and leisure group AAA said Friday, urging federal regulators to temporarily halt sales of the fuel.
Consumers are not aware of the potential risks associated with the blend, AAA said. The group asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the sales until more is known about the effects. The blend consists of gasoline and up to 15% of ethanol and it is known as E15.
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Gasoline with up to 10% ethanol was ushered to markets in similar fashion three decades ago and currently makes up more than 90% of the U.S. gasoline market.
E15 “could be acceptable in the long run” just as the 10% blend is, but consumers need to be better informed, said AAA President and & Chief Executive Officer Robert Darbelnet.
AAA research has showed 95% of U.S. consumers had not yet heard of it and only 5% of the cars on the road could handle it without the threat of damage, he said.
A few retailers in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska carry E15, and retailers in Illinois and South Dakota may soon offer it.
The EPA has said E15 is suitable for car, light-duty trucks, and SUV models 2001 or newer.
The agency said it relied on test results provided by the Department of Energy and other data to make its decision. E15 cannot be used in gasoline-powered equipment, such as lawn mowers, boats, motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, and vehicle models 2000 or older.
The EPA requires all E15 retailers to display a warning label showing consumers what vehicles can or cannot handle the blend.
Despite EPA assurances, AAA is not convinced. “We are really hearing diverging views” on whether E15 is suitable for the vehicles that got the clearance, Darbelnet said.
Darbelnet drives a 2006 Cadillac. The car would, according to the EPA, be able to handle E15, but any damages are unlikely to be covered by General Motors Co. /quotes/zigman/1466682/quotes/nls/gm GM -0.80% , its manufacturer, he said.
Potential problems with using E15 would not be immediately noticed by drivers, he said. It’s not like fueling a diesel tank with gasoline by mistake, or any other fuel problems that easily and quickly become apparent, he added.
“The damage is done over time. By the time you notice it, it’s too late,” Darbelnet said.
Five car makers — BMW, Chrysler Group LLC, Nissan Motor Co. /quotes/zigman/202910/quotes/nls/nsany NSANY +0.77% /quotes/zigman/196473 JP:7201 +0.88% , Toyota Motor Corp. /quotes/zigman/199376/quotes/nls/tm TM -0.50% /quotes/zigman/199438 JP:7203 +0.57% and Volkswagen AG /quotes/zigman/150347 DE:VOW +0.77% — are on record saying their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by the use of E15, AAA said. Seven automakers — Ford Motor Co. /quotes/zigman/264304/quotes/nls/f F -0.69% , Honda Motor Co. /quotes/zigman/193599/quotes/nls/hmc HMC -0.86% /quotes/zigman/193651 JP:7267 +0.22% , Hyundai Motor Co. /quotes/zigman/189436 KR:005380 -2.17% , Kia Motors. Corp. /quotes/zigman/189448 KR:000270 -0.16% , Mazda Motor Corp. /quotes/zigman/195045/quotes/nls/mzdaf MZDAF +5.26% , /quotes/zigman/195040 JP:7261 +0.78% , Mercedes-Benz and Volvo /quotes/zigman/177736 SE:VOLVB -0.58% — have said E15 may void warranties, it said.
From the car makers perspective, the only vehicles that could use E15 are flex-fuel models, 2001 model-year and newer Porsches, 2012 model-year and newer GM vehicles, and 2013 model-year Ford vehicles, AAA said.
“AAA supports the development and use of alternative fuels. More than 95 percent of the gasoline sold in the United States contains up to 10 percent ethanol. Lower ethanol blends should remain available to consumers while the challenges with E15 are addressed,” the company said in a statement earlier Friday.
Latest controversy around alternative fuels
The controversy surrounding E15 is the latest involving corn-based ethanol and other alternative fuels.
Earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing oil companies and refiners, said it filed a lawsuit against the EPA to stop a requirement raising the volume of biofuels blended into diesel fuel that starts next year.
The API also called for a repeal of the renewable fuels standard, which establishes biofuel volumes for diesel and gasoline.
Earlier this month, the EPA turned down a request from several governors to waive the requirements. The EPA has said the standard “lays the foundation for achieving significant” reductions in greenhouse emissions. See: API sues to reverse EPA biodiesel rule.