Did Gasoline Destroy Your Small Engine?

The following article was put on my desk this morning as “interesting reading.”   The report was done by Doug Ryan, the Service Manager at Fred’s Duxbury Fix-It Shop in Duxbury, MA, and it gives a very compelling argument for watching what you put in the fuel tank of your 4 stroke and 2 stroke engines.  As a company, handling fuel is a very volatile, costly, but very necessary ordeal.  You have to consider how to store it , protect it, buy it at the best price, and what if you do all of this, and then find out that your gasoline is actually doing more harm than good for your small engines?  After reading it, I couldn’t help but think of the countless numbers of carburetors, fuel lines, and fuel filters we sell every year, and wondering if old gasoline could be the issue in most cases.  I think Mr. Ryan makes a very compelling argument.

Fuel Hints.

03/03/08

In our collective efforts to protect our environment by consuming less petroleum and spewing less by-products of that petroleum into the atmosphere, today’s automobile fuel contains ethanol at –a federally mandated- 10% (10% ethanol / 90 % gasoline).

Ethanol is a cleaner source of energy, and the corn that produces ethanol is a renewable source, these two points are overwhelming positives for our daily travel needs. However, in the small engine world… the added ethanol becomes an unavoidable negative to your fuel system. Before we discuss its negative side, let’s explore the realm of ethanol and discover -where you use ethanol in your daily lives – besides that 10% in your automobile’s fuel tank.

Here is a list of some of the products we use every day that contain ethyl alcohol, more commonly known as ethanol… which is the same stuff that’s in our fuel tanks:

Hairspray, mouthwash, perfumes and cologne, shave lotion, deodorants, sanitizers, soaps and shampoos… cough treatments and decongestants.

As a solvent… household disinfectants contain as much as 80% ethanol, and it’s also used as cleaning agents for paint and varnish, lacquer and glue.

That Martini you may have just finished? Yup… grain alcohol, ethanol distilled and controlled to meet human consumption standards, but never the less… ethanol.

For further information please refer to:

http://www.ethanol.org

http://thebostonchanel.com/assseenon5/1092932/detail.html

The negatives: Small engines weren’t considered in the production of 10% ethanol fuel.

1, Ethanol fuels attract atmospheric humidity (water vapor). When this attracted water, (as little as .05 percent of the fuel tank’s volume,) and ethanol are in your fuel system, the water separates from the lighter gasoline and GRAVITY settles this water to the bottom of the fuel tank. Remember, in most cases, fuel flow to your carburetor is accomplished by GRAVITY. Get the picture here? GRAVITY pulls that attracted water to the bottom of your fuel tank, and from there into the fuel line and on… into your engine’s carburetor. Now, your entire fuel system is contaminated with water… the quality of your small engine’s carburetor has been compromised, and perhaps permanently damaged. It is highly recommended that your home fuel containers are always fully capped to seal your fuel from the atmosphere.

2, Ethanol adds additional oxygen to the fuel in your small engine… this –oxygenation- can lean out the fuel /air mixture thereby increasing the engine’s operating temperature, this a potentially harmful condition for your engine. Because of the EPA’s requirements, today’s carburetors have limited adjustment. Following those requirements, small engine service points no longer have the opportunity to -FULLY adjust your carburetor- to accommodate this artificially created lean condition.

3, If your small engine has previously run with the older fuels (prior to the introduction of 10% ethanol,) the ethanol introduced becomes a solvent that will loosen the deposits left behind by the previously available non-ethanol fuel, (remember the paint thinner solvent from mentioned earlier?) It can break down residual deposits left by your older fuel, and these particles can restrict the interior carburetor passages. Once these passages are restricted, a POOR or NO run condition will exist. Once plugged, these passages are permanently restricted, and your carburetor will need to be replaced.

Small 2 cycle engines share the same fuel problems as described on earlier, and more:

1, During periods of non-use, ethanol alcohol can cause the oil/fuel mix to separate, (phase separation) and that oil / fuel separation will create a condition where the internal working parts…cylinder/piston, crankshaft and bearings can become severely damaged due to the lack of that distributed oil. If your equipment has been idle for 15 minutes… shaking the equipment will remix that separated fuel and oil. Too, shaking your 2-cycle fuel storage containers… will redistribute the oil in that stored fuel. It is our recommendation that fuel containers should be sealed tightly to avoid breathing in the atmosphere’s moisture, and fuel should be stored in a SAFE, cool and dry environment.

2, The higher heat generated by the increased oxygenation of ethanol, may cause cylinder/piston damage.

To summarize:

Today’s automobile fuel has a storage life of 30 days… not too important when you consider the mileage you drive, and how often THAT fuel is replaced. But you use that same fuel in your small engines –when stored for extended periods- your small engine fuel degrades… like your milk going sour. With the use of easily available fuel STABILIZERS… Your fuel’s shelf life can be lengthened according to the manufacturer’s statement on the container.

With your 2-cycle engines, most oils produced and marketed today that are intended to be used in chainsaws, string trimmers, (and other hand held yard equipment)… contain fuel stabilizers. When used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, these oils can effectively extend the life of your 2-cycle fuel. Of course, the equipment and fluids manufacturer’s recommendations… are the ultimate guidelines.

– F.D.F.S. is not responsible for the owner/operator’s fuel storage and/or the usage of that fuel by the owner/operator in any equipment in question; neither your small engine equipment nor its fuel should be stored in your home. –

This, compiled by Doug Ryan, Service Manager at FDFS, and we thank you for your attention.