By on January 23, 2009

“I found real gasoline again. So my days of 33 to 37 mpg in the Prius during winter SHOULD be over soon, and hopefully I’ll see my typical winter time 44 mpg overall average return soon.  On the current tank of E10, as the trip meter passed the 120 mile mark, the fuel gage went to 4 bars used up (4 gallons roughly). When you’ve seen the car doing 58 mpg, you KNOW damned well that it’s more than a little frustrating to see this. Computer claims about 37 mpg, but with E10 that seems to be off when it used to match the measured MPG pretty closely ON AVERAGE over say 10 tankfuls (which evens out the topping-up variations).    

Hell, I wouldn’t bitch at 42 mpg at this point, well, okay, not loudly, anyhow. Alas, we still have two months of hard winter up here in the Michigan northwest before I get back to 48-50 mpg (after removing the snow tires; not needing “winter” fuel mix; not having to constantly push slush; and not having the car battle the cold temperatures). Cheap gas is $1.96.9 in town (Traverse City) while the Long Lake Grocery sells real 100 percent gasoline at $2.09.9. It’s even on my side of town, unlike my previous Last Stand for Real Gas which was a BP station.  

So for 6.2 percent more money, I’ll get six percent better mileage in my wife’s car and oh, 20 to 30 percent better mileage in my Prius, I hope. I’ll buy all my gas there as an incentive for him to keep up the good work, even if the Sonata is a wash for costs. Hey, every little bit helps, right? Plus I am now really truly tempted to get the 1974 Mercedes 280C I found….. now that I can actually fuel it properly. 

If the MPG doesn’t come up as it should, then I’ll be taking the car to Toyota (then if I get the usual Detroit-esque run around about there being nothing wrong, I’ll be selling it as soon as gas prices spike/people’s interest in high MPG vehicles is again piqued). But as you know, I’m 99 percent sure it’s the ethanol.  

A colleague of mine swears by GM, SUVs, ethanol (E85) and I generally swear AT GM, SUVs and ethanol; he claims he prefers E85 (one pump in town) and knows when it saves him money, and that he “only” loses about 20 percent MPG while running it. Yeah, right; pull the other one. I happened to glance on the way home yesterday, and E85 was $1.89.9 vs. $1.96.9 for unleaded (E10). 

Let’s assume he’s right, though. In his world, it makes sense to run E85 because the ethanol is from America and oil (mostly) is not. Knowing what I do about the MPG losses on E10 as seen in literally dozens of cars tested since 1979 on the damndable stuff (-6% to -35% MPG, usually -10% to -15%), I’d say that if his statements are true, then the Obama Nation should declare that all E85 vehicles “must” tank up with the stuff and let the rest of us have real gasoline, since E85 is obviously much better suited to flex-fuel vehicles!

I mean, if the MPG losses are similar when E85 is used in a flex fuel vehicle or E10 is used in a gasoline vehicle (each compared to gasoline), it only makes common sense to run 85% ethanol in cars intended for it instead of totally wasting any ethanol by running it through cars which apparently not only totally waste it, But sometimes apparently also drag extra gasoline through the engine for the same results. (Of course, anyone with a lick of sense realizes that the real losses in efficiency for flex-fuel vehicles is more like 35% when running E85; even the “gummint” admits it).  

I want to run the E10 out of the Prius obviously, then start with a nearly empty tank with real gas and run a couple of tanks through.  It might take the computer awhile to readjust. The E10 “plummet” in MPG was only “nearly” instantaneous. I’ll report it to you honestly; you do run The TRUTH About Cars, after all.  

BTW, due to the economy, the state of Michigan is doing a VERY poor job of road-clearing, and I’ve just about broken my back on the roads since either I’ve aged about 20 years in one year, OR the road conditions have severely deteriorated (yeah, it’s the latter). On Wednesday, the traction control light blinked on in the Prius because the car is literally leaving the ground due to the extreme heaving of US31 west of Traverse City Michigan. I wasn’t even speeding; I was doing 45 in a 55 zone.

This is a road which we’d been promised would be fixed, oh, I believe it was 6 or 7 years ago.  Neverhappened dot com.  Perhaps I should apply for an off road license by way of sarcasm, but then bureaucrats don’t really have a sense of humor, do they?

How much do northern and mountainous states “save” when they cut back on road repairs and especially cut back on road clearing, compared to the overall cost to the nation in increased accidents, injuries, loss of work, loss of taxes, increased insurance rates, and deaths? Additionally, how much extra fuel is wasted by people who throw in the towel and buy all wheel drive vehicles, because of the conditions of the roads?”

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22 Comments on “Menno Memo: Ethanol...”


  • avatar
    MBella

    I heard that Priuses (or whatever plural form you prefer) do loose gas mileage similar to what you are describing. I believe it has something to do with the battery.

    You also can’t be sure that gas station sells 100% gasoline without testing it. Stations in MI don’t have to label ethanol content, and the attendant at the station can tell you anything.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    In my experience, here are the top reasons for bad gas mileage in a Prius; “mostly” in order of worst (for MPG) to least-worst.

    1. My right foot. Speeding, flooring it at green lights. Wind resistance at 70 MPH is twice what it is at 55. Going 85 is really inefficient; more than 10-15%

    2. The “go” part of stop-and-go. I probably could get 55 MPG if I could drive around 45-50 MPH without having to step on the gas up at all those damned traffic lights!

    3. Badly timed or untimed traffic lights on main thoroughfares (goes to “2″ above).

    4. Bad drivers who cut me off or ride their brakes with nobody in front of them. Bad drivers make me step on brake too hard to get benefit of regen. To add to the inefficiency, I have to re-accellerate; so go back to “2″ above, but blame bad drivers for me wasting gas.

    5. Ethanol. In any amount. I agree that with the Prius the “E Penalty” is probably higher than any so-called “savings” in price-per-gallon. Savings which are non-existant anyhow because I’m one of the minority who actually pays ALL of my taxes…and my tax dollars are going to Ethanol subsidies. Unfortunately, I can’t find real gas where I live.

    6. Tire pressure. I can usually tell when one or more tires is low because MPG’s really suffer; and RIGHT AWAY, too. I keep them near (43 PSI) their sidewall max (44 PSI). One low-pressure (under 35) or nearly-flat (under 30) tire sometimes won’t seem to affect the ride, but mileage can drop below 40 MPG. Two low tires, especially if they’re on the front wheels, and my mileage will drop below 35! And you have an increased chance for a blowout and a bad crash.

    7. Tires. I’ve got a set of Bridgestones or Pirelli’s or some such foo-foo set on now. They’re way too soft. As soon as I got the tires (the very next tank), my mileage dropped from about 47 to about 41, or 12%! Next set, I’ll go back to the Michelin Hydroedges, even though they’ll run me a $100 more for a set of four.

    So here are the things I try to do to improve (not maximize; I’m not obsessed by all this) my gas mileage in my Prius:

    * Leave earlier. I’m still an assertive driver, but it makes a difference when I’m not in a rush.

    * Check my tire pressures once a month or sooner if I notice my fuel economy dropping.

    * Buy harder tires and keep them pressurized on the high side of their sidewall rating (even if that’s a little higher than the label on the car door).

    Other things I might do if I was nuts about all this:

    Reduce A/C usage in the summer. I live in Florida. Not gonna happen!

    Use my gas pedal feathering techniques more often. I learned it when I bought the car in 2004. It did save some gas and it was even fun, but now I prefer to just drive the damned thing!

    Not sit in it with the XM comedy station on…yeah, I do that sometimes, especially when I get to my destination and there’s a good comedian on.

  • avatar

    …Or just drive a Diesel. ;)

    –chuck

  • avatar
    jckirlan11

    “…up here in the Michigan northwest”

    Why have I always assumed you were in California? Have you always been there? Was going to move to Cadillac not that long ago. Beautiful place north west MI.

  • avatar
    Stu Sidoti

    Zoom-Zoom is making me reflect back to the Top Gear ‘test’ in which they drove a Prius around the TG track for all it was worth and Jezza Clarkston provided a casual-pace chase in a BMW M3 sedan and at the end of the run the BMW had gotten significantly better fuel mileage…

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    To Stu:

    Yup, my HRFS (Heavy Right Foot Syndrome) is the cause of more than one tank of bad MPG’s.

    And I even got a speeding ticket once in my Prius…that was a real achievement, because the infraction was only a few MPH’s over the 55 limit.

    I think the trooper just wanted to be able to tell a story to the guys at the station house, because I never did that in my RED CORVETTE or my RED BMW or my RED MIATA…

  • avatar

    The type of driving in the top gear test is probably the worst kind of driving for the Prius. no oppty for regen brakign on that sort of track. Still, I’m surprised the Prius did as badly as it did. I’ve driven one only once, but it seems like you’d have to work at it to do that badly. Maybe it was running on E10.

    Fun account — at Menno’s expense, of course, and good point about letting all the flexfuel cars run on E85 and give the rest of us straight gasoline. Just one quibble: E85 uses so much oil in the manufacturing (the still, the fertilizer, the tractors, etc) that it has very little geopolitical advantage over gasoline. Maybe none.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    I know I’ll be glad when I can find true gas again. I drove my trusty little Olds down to Detroit from Tawas to attend NAIAS, and calculated my mileage at a whopping 20! Normally I can get at least 27, and 30 in the summer months.

    Hey menno, one of these days I’m gonna have to wander over your way and say hi!

    Well, whenever the snow finally melts and my mpg’s improve!

    -Richard

  • avatar
    mcs

    I found this link that discusses the issues related to what the government calls “fuel variations.” The government claims a 1 to 3% drop in economy due to “reformulated” gasoline.

    I think our Prius is still managing to get mileage in the upper forties in the Boston area. Still better than our conventional car that drops from 38 on the highway to the teens when it has to deal with a really nasty commute.

    I wonder if the traction control is contributing to the lower numbers? Ours is triggered occasionally, but it doesn’t seem to have a huge effect. Maybe because of the condition of Michigan roads it could be a bigger factor. Another factor could be related to the heat since the ICE needs to run more in the winter.

    ZoomZoom’s tips are right on the money. Once, I managed to go 60+ miles at 60 mpg taking it easy on the throttle. The trip was mostly highway on roads with 50 to 55 mph speed limits.

  • avatar
    menno

    Hi jckirlan, interesting you mention Cadillac, which is about 40 miles away as the crow flies. That is where my mom grew up and where my parents live now. It’s a beautiful place with two big lakes right there in town.

    Richard, I was literally busying myself looking at some realty websites just now, trying to find a cottage in your area! Property prices are WAY down… Some folks would think us nuts to drive east and slightly south to get to a cottage, but hey, with everyone else headed north and west, it sure would make the traffic easier on the way to the cottage (and return journey too). Heh.

    Chuck, hi! Well, I did give real consideration to the Jetta diesel instead of a 2nd (2008 replacing 2005) Prius, but I simply could not get the math to work right for me and I was ready to buy before the 2009 Jetta TDI came out. I hear the new Jetta TDI is getting good, not great, mileage; and with diesel fuel running $2.29 and real gasoline running $2.09, with the price of the cars being fairly equal, I’d probably do it again. However, IF I were not able to get real gasoline, I might then be tempted with the Jetta.

    Except that Volkswagens don’t really have a very good reputation in this country for reliability and avoidance of constant warrantee work, and the dealer network has a reputation for being arrogant. (Not the local VW-Toyota-Nissan-Audi-Volvo dealer; they’re really okay as dealers go!)

  • avatar
    menno

    Hi Zoom zoom. Yes, I copy all of your good comments and concur; I’ve used many of your tricks myself.

    On a several hundred mile journey through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with 3 of us, several hundred pounds of food, luggage and 2 guitars (everyone and everything fit just fine) we managed to obtain almost 58 miles per (US) gallon. Again, this was over several hundred miles. Mostly, it’s 55 mph speed limits, but some towns and villages. We weren’t out for MPG records; it just showed us what a Prius could do in optimum conditions. It was spring time; no a/c was needed. Winter tires were (just) off. And it was the year before we started getting cursed with E10 instead of proper gasoline up here in the north. (It started out in “some” stations and ended up in virtually “all” stations; the station attendants will lie – or have been lied to – and tell you that “ethanol is now mandatory” – it’s not). The 7 cents per gallon tax incentive WE pay on E10 helps their margins.

    Yes, I am very very aware of the disasterous consequences of making ethanol from corn.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    As a note to your road conditions in Michigan, I will agree. Last week drove from Chicago to Detroit for NAIAS and cruising through Illinois an Indiana on dry clear roads, hit the Michigan state line and instantly the left lane was packed snow and ice. Basically too dangerous to drive on. Then the rest of the trip you had to slow way below the posted speed because it could be clear for awhile, then suddenly packed snow and ice, and the car would slide. More than a few cars were in the ditch.

    Then we had that great snow storm on Saturday in Detroit. They didn’t plow/salt/nothing until Sunday morning, after ALL the snow had finished falling. 696 and 94 were basically just deep snow. Its been a long time since I’ve driven on freeways with snow that deep.

    Its disgusting. And very sad actually that the economy is so bad there’s no money.

    Of course in Chicago most of our surface streets are asphalt, with massive potholes everywhere. It can take weeks before they get patched, and within a few days, most of them start to re-appear.

    I’ve decided I’d be willing to pay another $0.10/gallon or so fuel tax if it meant we could start building our roads right, and fix them right. I’m sure its cheaper with asphalt, but with the amount of patching and crews constantly out working, having to re-do the same holes, the car damages/blown tires, and the slower speeds all cost money….it’d probably be cheaper at the end of the day just to do it right the first time. But then you know the repair crews would complain to the union that their jobs were being eliminated. Or instead, they’d take the tax and divert it to the governors slush fund for his friends, and we’d pay more for less….the Chicago and Illinois way. Why people here seem to like it and ask for more drives me nuts. For as high as our sales taxes and such are here, we should have a lot nicer stuff.

    I hate the inefficiency of goverment. Disgusting.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    … fuel is wasted by people who throw in the towel and buy all wheel drive vehicles, because of the conditions of the roads?”

    Huh? Fuel wasted by driving an SUV? I certainly prefer driving an SUV over a Prius no matter the weather. Maybe MI should start charging those high mpg go carts more to register since you pay less taxes at the pump?!

    Come on, I’m sure MI will gladly accept a check from you to pay your fair share. ;)

    Michigan DOT
    State Transportation Building
    425 W. Ottawa St.
    P.O. Box 30050
    Lansing, MI 48909
    517-373-2090

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I have driven loads of new cars with regular and E85 gas blends. The mileage usually drops by 1-2 MPG with the E85 but nothing else changes or is noticeable. It doesn’t make sense that the Prius is getting so much less mileage on E85. And the fact that the trip computer is lying and saying that your getting considerably higher mileage than your calculating would anger me to the point of bringing the car in for service adjustments. There are teachers all over the school I work for that drive these things and they have not noticed a big drop in mileage using E85 blend gas and they are hand calculating vs the trip computer. It’s also Upstate, NY and a very cold Winter so the conditions sound very similar.

  • avatar
    MBella

    E85 has about 30% less energy content than regular gasoline. So it is not possible to get only a 1-2mpg drop unless you are only averaging 3-7mpg with unleaded gas. You can talk up E85 all you want, but you cannot beat simple chemistry.

    Also a Prius would probably fail quickly running on E85 because it is not a Flex-Fuel car.

  • avatar
    Gary Numan

    MI roads have been horrendous for years and years. Even during the “Boom” of the SUV 90′s, MI roads were just plain awful. Dirty, broken, and scary. Just like a weekend vacation one would have within the city border of Detroit.

    Perhaps TTAC should poll its readers with an article titled “What’s the benefit of living in Michigan” or “Why would anyone live in Michigan” then provide a contrasting survey article along the lines of “What’s wrong with Michigan” or “Why would people leave Michigan”…..could be fun to see the reader responses

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    @menno: Feel free to drop me a line sometime and I could put you in touch with a realtor that I know quite well, she’d be glad to help you out! Just take my user name and add an at yahoo to it and you’ll get me.

  • avatar
    MBella

    “Why would anyone live in Michigan?”
    The answer used to be jobs. Now that those are gone, there really isn’t an answer. Although northern Michigan is quite nice, and I would love to have a Cottage up there, but it’s quite hard to have a job.

  • avatar
    PabloKoh

    The weather around Chicago has been unusually cold and snowy this winter, especially this last month. Does severely cold weather (from 10 to -20) effect the batteries in a Prius enough to cause a loss of fuel mileage? Just a thought.
    Other possibilities? Warming up the car in the morning? (getting 0 mpg while parked) Snow on car? (increases aero drag) Snow and moisture on road? (increases rolling resistance)

  • avatar
    menno

    Yes, PabloKoh, all of those things affect MPG. Hence, the “usual” drop from 48 to 50 mpg to about 44 mpg on average in the winter time. That’s a large drop, percentage-wise.

    I realize the header mentions “E85″ but at no time have I EVER put E85 in the Prius; just E10 (10% ethanol).

    I think E85 is just TTAC-ese for “ethanol blends”.

    I’ve said all along that I’m running E10 in the Prius, not E85.

    BTW, I finally broke down and could not wait any longer to put real gasoline (100%) in the Prius yesterday afternoon, and put in 6.3 gallons (11 gallon tank). This means I’ve diluted the fuel to approximately 4% ethanol (unless, of course, the local stations have all been breaking the law and selling E20 – 20% ethanol – instead of E10).

    Once I’m down to less than 1/2 tank, as is my normal procedure, I’ll go to the same station and put in real gasoline and further dilute the ethanol down.

    In fact, despite temperatures of -6 degrees F. this morning, my commute showed me 39.5 mpg, but it is early days yet and will send Robert F. info as and when it becomes available.

    As I mentioned, if over the next few weeks the MPG doesn’t improve, I’m first taking the car to the Toyota dealer, and if they say “nothing’s wrong”, then I’m selling it and waiting on Hyundai to introduce their hybrid technology. In the meanwhile, I’ll likely lease a conventional Hyundai.

    As for “why live in Michigan?” well – I truly must be nuts, even more than the folks who have never left. I not only left Michigan in 1982 to go to college, I didn’t come back until 1993. On the other hand, I didn’t do very well in the altitude of Colorado; Arkansas Ozarks were interesting but not for me (damnyankee behing one word, you know); the Chicago suburbs don’t suit me, a country/small town guy; and I got fed-up of socialism when living in the UK (not that I have any choice but to suffer it again over the next 4 to 8 to 12 to infinity years). So I returned to my home town and it is one of the very few bright spots in Michigan at this time.

    Though when I go outside and it is 10 degrees or minus 6 degrees with 15 mph winds, I truly do wonder if I’m nutzoid to live here! Of course, we don’t have earthquakes; hurricanes; mudslides; air pollution; or riots (except Detroit circa 1967 of course). So there are compensations. Plus, we have lakes, forests, fall colors, winter sports, and four seasons (for good or ill).

  • avatar

    @ menno

    My bad. Headline amended.

  • avatar

    did this guy consider that the cold weather kills his battery efficiency?

    everyone I know with a Prius reports high 30s in the winter and high 40s in the summer due to this factor.


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