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Unpopular Opinion: Is Ethanol-Free Gas Superior?

It takes some effort to find it, but ethanol-free gas may be worth the extra trip. It’s a debate we hear often, so we’ve decided to weigh in with our own few cents worth.

The question of what kind of fuel to use usually boils down to this. Do you want to be clean and green, or do you want a smoother-running machine?

But maybe it’s not so simple. Let’s look at the pros and cons of something that was once the exception but is now the norm.

Let’s dive in!

What is Ethanol? 

Also known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol has many uses. It’s a clear liquid that we derive from fermenting plants. It’s mostly from corn in the U.S., but they can also produce it from other crops, including wheat, potatoes, and sugarcane. Ethanol may be more common than you think. It’s an ingredient in alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and hard liquor, as well as in cosmetics and medications. 

It’s also a common additive to the fuel we use to run our vehicles because it helps reduce greenhouse emissions. Most of the gasoline widely available these days contains up to ten percent ethanol. That’s what the designation E10 means. 

Some gas has more. Pumps with E15 have up to 15 percent ethanol. Flex Fuel, called E85, has the greatest concentration. It’s only for use with specially-made cars, trucks, and vans. 

What is Ethanol-Free Gas?

When it comes to filling up their tank, some people are purists for various reasons, which we’ll cover shortly. They prefer to use only ethanol-free gas and don’t mind going out of their way to get it.

This type, also known as pure gas, contains only petroleum products with zero ethanol added to it. It costs a little extra, usually between 30 cents to a dollar more per gallon.

Ethanol has been around for ages but has been a common additive for only a couple of decades. In that sense, filling up without ethanol is kind of an old-school approach. Modern vehicles run better on it because engineers have changed their designs. Older models don’t adjust as well.

It’s tempting to say the same about the drivers. But there’s more to deciding whether to use ethanol-free gas than just being a generational preference. Many drivers our age and younger also opt for this type. So what drives their decision? Let’s look at a few key reasons to bypass ethanol.

Woman refilling gas tank
While at the pump, consider filling up with ethanol-free gas.

Advantages of Ethanol-Free Gas

Some arguments against ethanol relate directly to a vehicle’s performance. Though modern engines are better geared for the blend, pure gas is more powerful. The difference is drastic for the E85, which is only 15 percent petroleum-based. For E10 fuel, expect a slight reduction in engine power in the neighborhood of three percent or so.

This also translates to a difference in mileage. If you’re regularly using a blend with alcohol, you’re burning more of it than you would with pure gas. Again, the percentage is pretty small, maybe five percent at the most, but it all adds up. Whether it adds up enough to justify the extra expense is for you to decide based on your experience.

On the environmental front, you can argue that growing so much corn to support the industry has significant downsides. Their fertilizer contains nitrogen, which flows into groundwater and releases into the atmosphere as ammonia. It’s ironic, but using less of this renewable resource may create less pollution. 

Pro Tip: Use these tips on How to Fill and Transport a Gas Can the Right Way the next time you’re at the pump.

Disadvantages of Ethanol-Free Gas

But on the other hand, most people agree that there’s no question that ethanol-free gas creates more harmful emissions. And that, of course, exacerbates the problems of global warming and climate change. 

Proponents also say that producing alternative forms of energy makes us less dependent on foreign oil. Their argument goes that being less dependent on others gives us better control over prices. So by purchasing ethanol-free gas instead, you may be directly diminishing those efforts.

Another minus is that it may be better for what’s under your hood. In short, modern engines have high compression ratios that require the octane levels that come with E10 or E15. Running pure petroleum instead could stress the motor and cause long-term damage.

gas station pump
There are pros and cons to using ethanol-free gas in your vehicle.

What Are the Effects of Ethanol Fuel?

Many of the reasons some people turn away from these blends are related to their natural makeup. Ethanol is what botanists call a hydrophilic compound, which means it attracts water. This can be a serious problem with certain kinds of engines. 

For example, the added moisture in older cars can cause certain metal parts to rust. It can also lead to faster deterioration of rubber parts like gaskets and hoses. Grain alcohol can be pretty rough on smaller engines, too, like lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and weed trimmers. 

You’ll have fewer problems when you’re burning through the fuel quickly. However, leaving tanks filled with it over prolonged periods can cause more serious problems. Over time, the alcohol can act as a solvent. It can corrode metal and dissolve plastic, fiberglass, and rubber parts.

So don’t be surprised to see a landscaping crew or two in line at the pumps serving ethanol-free gasoline.

Pro Tip: Before you fill up your tank, find out How Quickly Does Gas Go Bad?

Where Can You Buy Ethanol-Free Gas?

If you aren’t sure where to find ethanol-free gas, you could use a lot of fuel to look for it. If you have a permanent home, chances are you have a favorite go-to station. Out on the road as a full-time RVers, it gets a little trickier to find.

Thankfully there are quite a few resources online, including websites that list fill-up stations, state by state, that offer it. The fact that such sites are frequently updated reinforces the idea that many people would rather have it.

One of them is the popular map at Another handy solution is the Pure Gas app, available for iPhones. It gives you a list of 100 stations sorted by nearest location and provides driving directions.

What Should You Fill Up With?

Gas with ethanol is so much more widely available that it’s a no-brainer to top off your tank with it. It’s the easiest choice, and if you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll probably feel better about doing so. After all, science says it’s less harmful to the atmosphere.

We say go with the flow unless you have a good reason otherwise, and some picky motorists do. In that case, we hope we’ve provided some valuable information to help you get to where you’re going.

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