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AAA: E15 gas blend could hurt your vehicle

Although many motorists now fill up with gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol, a new type of blended fuel -- which has yet to hit the market in most areas -- could cause damage to older vehicles.

The motorist group AAA issued a warning Friday to consumers and is asking that the Environmental Protection Agency take a closer look at E15, a new ethanol blend.

"Right now, E15 is only being sold at a small number of gas stations nationwide," said AAA North Dakota spokesperson Gene LaDoucer. "We know of stations in Kansas that offer it, one in Iowa and one in Nebraska. What we're asking for is consumer education because this fuel could potentially cause damage to many vehicles on the roadways now."

Less than 5 percent of the more than 240 million cars, trucks and SUVs on U.S. roadways are equipped to use E15, according to AAA. To date, only flex fuel, 2012 and newer General Motors, 2013 Fords and 2001 and later Porsches are cleared -- by the manufacturers themselves -- to use E15.

"We're not saying your vehicle is going to explode if you use E15, but it could cause corrosive damage to fuel lines, gaskets and rubber seal fixtures," LaDoucer said. "It could also void the warranty on your vehicle. It's something we hope people will pay attention to."

LaDoucer said he doesn't know of any service stations that offer E15 in North Dakota, but added that the state has plenty of "blended pumps" that would easily be able to store and offer E15. Honda, Ford, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have all said E15 use will void warranties, according to AAA.

The EPA, however, doesn't believe E15 could be a problem for newer vehicles.

"The EPA has granted the E15 waivers for model years 2001 and newer cars and light trucks only after completing rigorous testing and data analysis consistent with what the law requires," according to a statement released to The Press by EPA spokesperson Julia Valentine.

The EPA recently required all retailers that sell E15 to label fuel pumps with a "prominent orange and black label" that was developed in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission. The EPA does not require that retailers sell E15, but LaDoucer said some retailers could be tempted to offer the new fuel, partly because consumers like to have choices.

Stickers on gas pumps offering E15 read that the fuel is safe for vehicles 2001 and newer -- something that was confirmed by an employee of the Zarco 66 service station in Lawrence, Kan. -- which is in direct conflict with what AAA is saying. LaDoucer said the difference between 10 percent and 15 percent ethanol blended fuels can be "significant enough" to potentially cause issues with vehicles.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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