The Road Ahead : February 2011
WWW.ROADAHEAD.COM.AU 38 THE ROAD AHEAD FEB/MAR 2011 MOTORING SPECIAL REPORT STORY DEB ECCLESTON fuels ain't fuels These days filling the car with fuel isnotaseasyasitusedtobe. WITH A SMORGASBORD of fuels available at the bowser, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. It's no longer just a choice between unleaded and diesel now that ethanol blended fuels have taken the market by storm. There's ULP (91), PULP (95), higher octane fuels, E10 (either 91 or 95), Diesel, B20 (bio) diesel, LPG, and now in selected Caltex service stations, a fuel with up to 85 percent ethanol. It's this new kid on the block that piqued the interests of RACQ's Vehicle Technologies team. While most cars on the road are able to tolerate 10 percent ethanol blends (unless of course they are diesel vehicles), would the higher concentration of ethanol affect performance? The answer might surprise you. The test involved a 1990 four-cylinder Ford Laser with a carburettor engine, not compatible with even E10 fuel, and a 1992 six-cylinder fuel injected Ford Falcon. Before being put through their paces at Lakeside Park, the cars were conditioned to replicate the situation where the driver has -- intentionally or otherwise -- refilled the tanks with high ethanol fuel even though they are only suited to ULP. After a pre-drive evaluation to ensure there were no running problems, the cars were run low on fuel to minimise dilution when the E85 was added. Driveability tests -- hot starting, acceleration, cruising, idle quality and cold starting -- were carried out and the results recorded. The test found that despite the E85 fuel in the tanks, the hot starting performance of both cars was largely unaffected. There was a noticeable reduction in acceleration in both cars, however when cruising there was minimal difference. The Laser had reduced idle quality that became more pronounced, however the fuel-injected Falcon was unaffected. Finally, the Laser was less willing to rev properly off a cold start, but again the Falcon showed no significant change in performance. "We thought there would be a more severe and immediate reaction,'' RACQ Vehicle Technologies executive manager Steve Spalding said. "While the Laser was more affected than the Falcon, any symptoms observed were relatively moderate." However that's not to say drivers of ULP vehicles should fill up with E85. In the short term your car may escape unscathed, however the long-term damage caused would be costly: fuel tank scouring, degradation of fuel hoses and filter blockages. At higher blends, such as E85, the engines of such vehicles may even experience internal damage. "Just because your car is compatible with E10 doesn't mean it can tolerate E85," Mr Spalding said. "Unless the car is manufactured to run on E85, don't use it." The number of cars specifically designed to tolerate E85 are limited in Australia to a small number of SAABs and Holden's VE Series 2 Commodore (3.0-litre and 6.0-litre models only). For more information, visit www. racq.com.au/motoring.