Bad Gas

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It all started back in the ’80s.

If you’re of a certain vintage, you may remember. In winter, they began to “oxygenate” – that is, adulterate – gasoline with additives such as MTBE and ethanol, corn alcohol, in order (so they said) to lower tailpipe exhaust emissions. When that excuse went away – because older cars without computers that could not adjust their air-fuel mixtures and so ran lean (and hence – allegedly, produced lower emissions when burning Not Quite Gas ) went away, the new excuse became “renewable energy.” Now it was patriotic to burn corn instead of eating it – even if it took more energy to convert corn into alcohol and even if your car didn’t go as far on a tank anymore, because alcohol-laced fuel is less energy dense than straight 100 proof gasoline.

The Corn Lobby (that is, the agro-business lobby) is as powerful as the Israeli lobby – each firmly grasping one of Uncle Sam’s two testes, always applying just enough pressure to make sure he does what is required. Which means, passing laws that assure each of these interests receives what it wants. In the case of the corn lobby, what is wanted is for every American driver – hell, everyone who buys “gas,” (in quotes in the interests of accuracy, since what we are putting in our tanks is no longer, properly speaking, gasoline) for whatever reason, to pay tribute each time he fills up. The total sum is an incomprehensibly large number but the average person sees the tab every time he’s at the pump.

And more, every time he drives.

The “gas” we put into our tanks now usually contains 10 percent corn alcohol – ethanol. As a result, our gas mileage goes down by a noticeable amount. Correction. It’s not so noticeable anymore to most people because unlike Back in the Day, we no longer only get Not Quite Gas during the winter months – which, as a result, made it hard not to notice the sudden drop in fuel economy that attended its use. And, come spring, the way MPGs went up once we got real gas again. But today, Not Quite Gas is with us all year ’round, so most people no longer notice. Like air travel before Gate Rape, it is something only people over 30 have any real memory of.

But, there is an out.

Because of problems that could not be hidden with Not Quite Gas, especially physical problems in older (pre-computer) cars, outdoor power equipment (two-stroke equipment such as chainsaws, especially) and marine engines – including damaged seals and hoses from the much-more-corrosive alcohol on rubber not designed to deal with it – as well as problems arising from water build-up in tanks and lines (ethanol absorbs water from atmospheric humidity, etc.) and a much shorter shelf life, which is an obvious concern for owners of antique vehicles, as well as boats and power equipment that may sit for weeks/months at a time – it is once again legal to sell real gas.

Here is a helpful web site where you can find out about the availability of real gas in your area: http://pure-gas.org/

Turns out, there are almost 4,500 ethanol-free filling stations around the U.S. and Canada. If you live in Alaska (and Alberta, Canada) you’re really in luck because all stations dispense real gas instead of Not Quite Gas. I checked the site’s state-by-state listings and – happy day! – my own state of Virginia currently has 156 stations where you can buy real gas – including premium real gas. (The latter being really important to me – to anyone like me who owns an antique muscle car or a new high-performance chain saw – which both must have the real deal to operate correctly and live long and prosper, too. In fact, my Stihl chain saw owner’s manual very insistently tells you to feed the beast nothing less than premium gas. Real gas, amigos.) The site even includes a map to show where to find real fuel in your area.

So, any downsides?

Just the one – price. Real gas seems to run about 10 cents more per gallon – for regular leaded. Premium, as you’d expect, costs more. But, the math may work out. If you factor in the better gas mileage you will get by using real gas, the higher at-the-pump cost may turn out to be negligible or at least, nominal. Plus, your machinery will last longer – and run better.

And more than all that, what could be better than dodging the Corn Con?

That’s more than worth an extra few cents per gallon in my book!

Reprinted with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.

Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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