Know the facts about Flex Fuel vehicles, E85 Gas

April 6, 2018

Gas prices have been creeping up lately, and people who have Flex Fuel vehicles are considering E85 because it is cheaper. You should know the facts before making the with.

Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) are designed to run on gasoline or gasoline-ethanol blends of up to 85 percent ethanol (E85). Except for a few engine and fuel system modifications, they are identical to gasoline-only models. FFVs experience no loss in performance when operating on E85, and some generate more torque and horsepower than when operating on gasoline. However, since ethanol contains less energy per volume than gasoline, FFVs typically get about 20-30 percent fewer miles per gallon when fueled with E85, thus wiping out any savings per gallon.

The EPA tracks fuel economy for all sorts of vehicles at its website, FuelEconomy.gov, including flex fuel vehicles. I looked at a 2017 Chevy Tahoe with the 5.3-liter V8. Running on regular fuel, the fuel economy is 19 combined city and highway. On E85, that drops to 14 combined. The range on a tank of regular is 494 miles, using the flex fuel option it drops to 364 miles.

FFVs have been produced since the 1990s, and more than one hundred models are currently available. Since FFVs look just like gasoline-only models, you may be driving an FFV and not even know it. Check your owner’s manual, but usually there is a badge on the back of the car, and they have yellow gas caps.

If you make the move to E85, know that it is not easy to find. Currently there are about 4000 E85 stations in America. Many gas stations added the capability of dispensing E85 over a decade ago, only to switch the tanks back to regular gasoline.

The first car that could use E85 from an automaker was the 1996 Ford Taurus, but many have followed. The 1996 Taurus could also run on methanol. While there are a lot of vehicles able to use E85, it is estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the people who can use ethanol actually do. Most who try E85 figure out quickly that although the cost per gallon is cheaper, overall it is more expensive. Some who use it do so because it does burn cleaner, and results in fewer tailpipe emissions.

Bottom line: if you want to use E85 in a vehicle equipped for it, it is fine to do, just don’t expect there to be any savings at the pump.

Jerry Reynolds is an auto industry expert and the host of nationally syndicated Car Pro Show heard Saturday 11-2 on News Radio KTRH 740 AM and online at www.CarProUSA.com.