At the turn of the century, the country moved to a more environmentally friendly fuel. It consists of a corn product called ethanol added to gasoline. You have seen the stickers at the pumps that say, “Contains up to 10% ethanol.” We run it in our non-diesel cars and trucks without problems.
Now here is where things get a little technical and when that happens, I tend to type slower, so stay with me. It works because of a closed-loop, fuel system used on today’s vehicles.
Closed-loop systems include an O2 sensor that detects water condensing in the fuel system. It is that thingy that often triggers your “check engine” light and the mechanic says, “Oh, it is probably your O2 sensor.” At which time you feel like cursing the O2 sensor. Don’t — it is the reason you can run this fuel in your car, and ethanol actually does increase octane.
Until recently, gas containing ethanol is all that was available to power gasoline engines. I have used gas with a 91 octane rating in my machines since I bought my first one in 1993. Now we see non-ethanol, or ethanol free, gas options popping up in gas stations and pumps are becoming more colorful — there is a green-handled nozzle for diesel, black handles for the multiple grades of gas containing ethanol, and a blue one for non-ethanol gas.
Just seeing this new option available made me curious about its application in the small engine world. Talking to an employee in the service department at Layton Cycle, I got an ear full. It’s a good thing, I learned a lot.
Small engines like lawn mowers, generators, and some motorcycles and ATVs still use carburetors. The tanks are vented to prevent a vacuum and for gas to flow smoothly when you panic and hit the throttle. A vented tank and carburetor will allow moisture into the system via humidity or condensation.
Typing slowly now: if a piece of equipment sits for as long as three weeks, a phenomenon known as “phase separation” occurs. When ethanol comes in contact with water, it absorbs it. When it reaches a saturation point the ethanol and water will phase separate, coming out of solution and forming two or three distinct layers in the tank — an upper gasoline layer, a milky layer of ethanol and water in the middle, and a third layer of just water at the bottom.
Phase separation is also dependent on temperature. Higher temperatures allow ethanol to hold more water while lower temperatures decrease ethanol’s ability to hold water in solution.
Therein lies the problem. If your machine has been sitting for a long period of time and the draw tube takes gas off the bottom, in a carbureted engine when you try to start it, you will be sucking water into the engine. If the draw tube takes fuel from either of the other two layers, a separate set of problems will occur. Drawing from any of these three layers is equally bad for fuel-injected engines.
Also, ethanol is a strong solvent that will cause problems with rubber hoses, O-rings, seals and gaskets. These problems are made worse the longer the equipment is stored.
I have talked to a lot of riders who use stabilizers in their tanks to prevent phase separation. This is a good solution, but it is dependent on the consistency of the operator.
The best solution for worry-free operation in small engines is non-ethanol gas. Sometimes called pure gas or clear gas, non-ethanol gas comes with an octane rating of 88 and that will make ATV engines very happy. It takes the worry out of storage and is safe on engine parts.
You can make note of service stations offering this fuel in your area in your travels, or you can download a free app to your smart phone called “Pure Gas.” It will give you names and addresses of stations near you, and the distance in miles from your location.
When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and use non-ethanol gas, it will make a big difference.
You can reach ATV Adventures columnist Lynn Blamires at firstname.lastname@example.org.