By on August 29, 2008

Environmentally-friendly gasoline-free lawm mower.  And it even fertilizes the lawn automatically.OK, so this isn't specifically about cars, but it could have ramifications for anyone who uses gasoline. Cars.com reports small-engine mechanics around the country are reporting an increase in damage in boat, lawnmower, chainsaw and other small engines. The culprit? They're saying it's the ethanol blended into gasoline. Apparantly it creates a gummy substance that "clogs valves and causes small metal parts to rust, destroying carburetors and other crucial components". The bad thing is, even if you drain the tank, this residue remains behind and does its damage. The same thing happens in our cars, but they're designed to handle "a certain amount of the residue that causes so much trouble in smaller motors." No one's done any studies to substantiate these allegations, but "a growing chorus of mechanics" say it's so. [Thanks to ppellico for the link]

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33 Comments on “Ethanol May be Harmful to Your Lawnmower...”


  • avatar
    afuller

    C’mon, it’s not like the addition of ethanol to gasoline is exactly new. The pumps in my hometown had “up to 10% ethanol added” since the 80′s, I never experienced catastrophic lawnmower failure from it.

  • avatar
    menno

    “Could it be” that the problems are stemming from the fact that profit margins for STATIONS is at an all time low (vs. all time high for oil companies), and since buying & mixing ethanol obtains a higher profit margin (solely because we the taxpayers are subsidizing the crap to the tune of 71 cents per gallon), that station owners are “accidentally on purpose” mixing in more than 10% ethanol?

    I can tell you that we have a BMW company car; that said car has never been near an E85 pump (nearest one is hundreds of miles away); and that said BMW crapped out and quit dead / was dragged to the BMW dealer where it was determined that the fuel contained 20% ethanol…

  • avatar
    N85523

    Many light aircraft engines (up to 200 hp) can be certified to safely operate on unleaded 87 octane automotive fuel. Some pilots routinely use the stuff as it is much cheaper than 100LL avgas and the lower compression engines really do not require the high octane or the lead in avgas. One provision for this certification is that the automotive gas may not contain ethanol as airplane fuel systems were not designed to handle it in any amount. Lately it has become a big headache trying to find E10 free mogas, though some airports do sell it.

    Menno,
    I could be wrong, but I believe that ethanol is blended into gasoline before stations take delivery of it. I am not, however, doubting that some fuel at the pump may contain more than the advertised 10% corn juice.

  • avatar
    shaker


    Apparently, it’s also harmful to 65,000 Hyundai Elantras:

    The fuel pumps are defective (causing rough running and stalling) but the problem only shows up when the ethanol-induced gunk gets into the fuel pump motor’s brushes and commutators.

    I’m starting to wonder if our local supermarket chain’s gas stations might be getting excessive ethanol — my gas mileage has dropped 20% since my last fill-up, but my Elantra (not part of the recall) seems to be running OK…

  • avatar

    The only thing I buy gasoline for is my lawn mower… (and my classic car) and come to think of it, I had to buy a new one two years ago as the old one crapped out on me. Would not start despite spark and fuel. Too bad you can’t find mowers that run on Diesel.

    Do NOT try the pictured alternative. Those things are spendier than owning a Hummer. Hay, vet bills, etc. While the continuous stream of organic fertilizer is occasionally useful, the flies & expense are not. Trust me on this. Gasoline is not THAT expensive.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    joemoc1

    Local Chevron changed to Ethonal last August. Put the new mower away in October Mower quit working last weekend, Starts and dies, Hmmmm

  • avatar
    ppellico

    I have asked around because this is a constant nightmare for me.
    My boat gets used only around every two weeks.
    This will be the 4th time I have had the Carb rebuilt.
    Rusted and broken…constantly gobbed up after just a few months?
    Every boater on the lake drives up and advises me on this.
    Its the most common warning on the lake and all the lakes within the community.
    And it must be true…because otherwise WHY would marinas be exempt from the use of eth in their gas.
    Check it out.
    Tell me if this is not true as all the other boaters tell me.
    I just feel trying to find a marina to get gas is a very difficult and uncalled for punishment.

  • avatar
    blautens

    It’s unbelievable that in 2008 we can’t trust our fuel supply.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    It’s only going to get worse. All the majors are getting out of the station business.

    The light at the end of the tunnel may be that we go back to having stations where you know the people there, and thus have someone who you can actually talk to in order to find out how much corn is really in your fuel.

    I am getting my Avgas cheap (app. $5/gallon US). Gotta love the $400 fill up! There actually is a way to figure the cost so that it’s cheaper than driving, but you have to use advanced math (some logical, some psychological). The other mental health technique is to remember that the jet that took off in front of you spent more to taxi than you will to get across a few states.

    I can’t use auto fuel, but even if I could, I don’t think I would unless I really knew the content with a high degree of certainty.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Count me in: My riding mower, walk-behind mower and other small engines have been besieged by a recurring carburator problems. The jets get plugged up, causing lean (not)running, backfiring, etc. I’m getting pretty quick at yanking the carb apart and blowing them out. The ethanol must be loosening up particles, or??

  • avatar
    jaydez

    chuckgoolsbee :

    yeah you can. I used to dirve… errr.. ride one for work. Toro’s Groundsmaster series is available with mitsubishi diesels, both NA and turbo!

    Sure they cost over 10 grand… maybe closer to 20 now for the base models, buy uo can get over 1000 inches of cutting, power steering, 4wd, hydrolic controls, hydro-static transmissions, heatted seats (bad for the boys though) and the list goes on.

    But hey, they run on diesel and are fun as hell to drive. But nothing is better than being able to mow the grass at over 12 MPH!

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    We have two stations in town that sell 92 octane non oxegenated fuel for a 30 cent premium to be used in lawn mowers, snowmobiles, motorcycles, ect. but against the law to use in ordinary cars.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    We have two stations in town that sell 92 octane non oxegenated fuel for a 30 cent premium to be used in lawn mowers, snowmobiles, motorcycles, ect. but against the law to use in ordinary cars.

    Kind of ironic… you can put the non-oxygenated fuel in the engine with carborator, no O2 sensor, and no catalytic converter but for the engine with O2 feedback loop, fuel injection, and catalytic converter you have to use the gasoline supposedly designed to reduce emissions.

  • avatar
    seoultrain

    Hyundai just recalled Elantras for the same exact reason:

    http://www.autoblog.com/2008/08/28/hyundai-recalls-65-000-elantras-for-fuel-pump-problem/

  • avatar
    Pch101

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, modern cars are actually designed to run on E10. The “Top Tier” fuel standard used by Audi, BMW, GM, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen all call for gasoline with 8-10% ethanol.

    Engines that were designed to use ethanol or ethanol blends run fine with it. Even Model T’s were designed to operate with it.

    Your garden variety lawnmowers have two-stroke engines. Unless you drive a Trabant, I don’t see the connection between that and the cars used on US highways.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    how does this affect small engine motorcycles both carb’d and fuel injected?

  • avatar
    Dr. D

    In America of the 21st century there isn’t much we can trust. As a former small engine mechanic, I can attest to the fact that corn juice is ruinous to small engines, in fact to virtually any internal combustion/compression engine of any sort. Not saying it won’t work, just saying for the long haul…no good.
    It works, oh yeah, about like General Motors works as a successful Automotive enterprise.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Robstar This probably wont answer your question but I am starting to have real problems with my 27 y/o 500cc bike and I’m almost certain it is because of the ethanol. The bike would run like complete sh*t with E10 and I would lose 10-15% on my mpg. I had to put fuel additives just to get the bike to run normal on the stuff. Without the corn juice the bike ran awesome and had noticably more power for a 26 hp bike.

    I’m coming up to having to break down my carb and clean every inch of it for the 2nd time in 4 months. And I might have to rebuild it because it looked like it was eating through seals and O-rings last time I did it. The jets were gunked up from the stuff. E10 is just not recommended for older bikes, says it right in the manual. The new bikes are probably designed to use it since they are all FI now. I think the gas in my area is pretty crappy even our car doesn’t perform well on the stuff we buy here compared to other areas or states.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Your garden variety lawnmowers have two-stroke engines. Unless you drive a Trabant, I don’t see the connection between that and the cars used on US highways.

    Most (if not all) gasoline powered lawn mowers are four-stroke engines. Weed trimmers and chainsaws, on the other hand are two-stroke.

  • avatar

    Ethanol sucks.

    I had two jetski carbs with brown gunk…the ski stopped running decently, only 7 or so years of real gas.

    My brother lost a trip to Florida when his ski also died from brown gunk in the carb. Another carb rebuild.

    Worse, Ethanol sucks water out of air unlike real gas, making water in the fuel a real nuisance.

    Alcohol is for drinking, NOT burning in your car.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Your garden variety lawnmowers have two-stroke engines.…

    Some do, like LawnBoy, but most mowers use 4 cycle engines. Two stroke is common in blowers and chain saws, but most blowers are going 4 stroke. Can’t say that I miss the stink of burnt oil…the smell on my ski clothing after snowmobiling was a big detraction from the fun of the ride…another positive benefit of clean air requirements.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I started dosing my mower fuel with Marvel Mystery oil. They start easier and I haven’t had to tear down a carb in a few yrs. Newer mowers have to follow EPA rules. As a result, have been out to the point of barely running. And they cant be adjusted. The lawnmower nuts resort to larger jets or reaming them out a few .000s”

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I voted for the Conservatives in the last election (in Canada) because they were the one party whose platform didn’t include mandating ethanol. But, we’ve got it anyway thanks to our provincial government (also Conservative). Some of the stations around here have no “contains up to 10% ethanol” stickers on the 91 pumps, and I think Shell even advertises “contains no ethanol” on the 91 pumps, so I think I’m going to spend the extra on premium while I still can. They probably allow ethanol-free premium fuel to accommodate users who need it.

  • avatar
    westhighgoalie

    What you guys need to do is start adding gas preservatives to your lawnmowers gas-o-hol. (I use Sta-bil) it prevents the ethanol from decaying and there for your engine parts don’t get gummed up. its a hassle. but really saves you money on new mowers/trimmers/chain saws/ MOTORCYCLES!

  • avatar
    blautens

    westhighgoalie :

    What you guys need to do is start adding gas preservatives to your lawnmowers gas-o-hol. (I use Sta-bil) it prevents the ethanol from decaying and there for your engine parts don’t get gummed up. its a hassle. but really saves you money on new mowers/trimmers/chain saws/ MOTORCYCLES!

    That would be great news, and explain why I haven’t had any problem so far…ever since the triple hurricanes a few years back, I don’t put gas in any of my 5 gallon cans without adding Sta-bil. And I thought I was just being anal…

  • avatar
    Mark45

    The Hyundai’s being recalled is their fault. The fuel pumps should be designed for the E10 fuel. I have not heard of problems with fuel pumps from other manufacturers.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Yes, the Hyundai recall is voluntary (they admit guilt), and all the affected cars will be repaired under warranty. But the “defective” fuel pumps work OK with non-ethanol gasoline, which highlights the fact that E10 “gunk” is probably going to affect other parts of the fuel system as mileage builds up. There has to be an investigation to see if the E-10 “band-aid” has been pushed into motor fuel by lobbies, rather than concern for clean air, and to the detriment of the consumer.

  • avatar
    AG

    I guess I should invest in an electric mower…when I have a lawn to mow.

  • avatar
    Mrclean

    Ok, here it goes. Methanol readily mixes with water and will corrode things in your engine. Heck it even draws moisture from the air!
    But, Ethanol will not collect as much moisture especially if you are using a gas/alcohol mix like E-85 in the mower or other small engine. Once mixed with gasoline to make the E-85 fuel, any water drops out and is drained away before you purchase. So the lesson is use Ethanol E-85 that does not have any water in it first of all. 2nd, 2 cycle engines need lube in the fuel, 2 cycle oil WILL NOT mix with alcohol. You’ll need to use 4 ounces of castor oil (yes that nasty tasting stuff Mom gave you as a kid) or 4 ounces of mineral oil per gallon of alcohol fuel to make a 2 cycle mix. Small engines LOVE alcohol fuel as it carries some of it’s own oxygen. Just remember to use a fully synthetic motor oil in the crankcase. Undoubtedly, most of the boat engine mechanics are repairing 2 cycle engines that the owners had unknowingly tried to mix 2 cycle oil with the alcohol fuel. 4 ounces of castor oil mixed per gallon of alcohol will do the trick.

  • avatar
    happy-cynic

    We had local news reports of boats and engines of all sizes having trouble with E10 fuel. ( l live in MA USA)

    My personal experiance with small engines has been no issues.
    ( had landscape business and worked on private estate for over 10 years)
    (To add to the posts of “care and feeding of small engines”)
    I have an 18 year old 5 HP Tecumseh engine attached to a 40+ year old Bunton push mower. I have used it to cut my own lawn (less the 1 acre) and for two years in landscape business. Never had a problem with it. The key is to buy gas from major brand, change oil in the fall, run the engine to it stops at end of season, and store in a dry location.

    Speaking of gas, when I had my landscape business, I noticed that when using off-brand gas, my gear would not run as good. The big mover would back fire and the small stuff, (weed wackers,etc) would take more effort to start.

    As the previous posters have mentioned There are other options for lawnmowers beside gas
    Depending on size, there is electric, or push mover (small plots)
    (It might seem strange but the reel mowers cut the grass better then your typical mower. Just imagine getting a haircut by having some one pull your hair and tear it vs. snipping it.)
    to large tractors, (Kubota, John Deere)
    It is well worth checking out are the walk-behind tractors.
    http://www.bcs-america.com/what.cqs

    We fossil fuel buffs face an Hobson’s choice.

    The main reason why it was taken out was due to groundwater conditions.

    https://www.llnl.gov/str/Happel.html

    http://www.des.state.nh.us/factsheets/ard/ard-29.htm

    Easier to adjust to E10 then cancer

    • 0 avatar
      Eth Doc

      Hi, what brands are you using? Could it be that you have really high quality machines and there Ethanol is not causing any damage to your machines?

      Or is it possible that the climate if favoring easy maintaining of your machines / humid climate is more risky to troubles caused by Ethanol.

  • avatar
    onlinetarzan

    This problem is real, it is annoying, and it can be expensive. Fixing a lawnmower after ethanol has gunked up everything is a nightmare. Corn taste great to eat and dinosaurs didn’t die and turn into goo so that we could use something that goes well with burgers as our fuel. Check out my experience and solution: http://www.squidoo.com/ethanolkillsengine

  • avatar

    Have any of you tried sta-bil? found some info on that here: http://www.lawnmowerforum.com/threads/33-Ethanol


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