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The Pros and Cons of Buying Gas With or Without Ethanol

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What do you pump pure gas or do you use a little ethanol? In most of the country there’s no question you go with the mix, but there are a lot of holdouts in Oklahoma who still demand a regular supply of ethanol free fuel. Why? What does pure gas do that the ethanol can’t? KOSU’s Quinton Chandler finds the answers and explains how federal standards may take away our choice between the two types of gas.

If you’re from Oklahoma you’ve probably gotten used to seeing signs that say, “Buy 100% gas here”, “No ethanol”, “Ethanol Free”. That’s because a lot of Oklahomans share a love for pure gas. Jim Griffith, CEO of OnCue Express says this is one of the only states where you’re given the choice.

“There are pockets of clear product in other states but Oklahoma is just a little unique in that there are some people who don’t want to put anything but the pure product in their cars.” “Some people believe they get better performance. Some people believe they get better mileage…”

Jim says OnCue’s customers are split almost 50/50 between clear gas, and the 10 percent ethanol mix called E-10. The company also sells E-85, but it isn’t one of their stronger products. No one seems to know how this divide between E-10 and clear gas started. That’s just how it is.

“My husband says that the car will run longer so he says to put the better gas in.”

“People really do promote that 100% gas. I don’t know what it has to do with. I’ve noticed it all my family all my friends prefer the 100% gas.”

Most of the people I interviewed either wanted only pure gas, only ethanol or they didn’t care one way or another.

“This engine is specifically made to take gas that’s mixed with ethanol. The clear gas is like $0.20 more per gallon so I like it.”

“Even though it’s more expensive I will spend the money to put it in my truck. I think it’s going to make my truck run and last longer.”

Jim told me his suppliers are starting to sell him pure gas at a twenty to thirty cent difference and the 100 percent gas still sells just a little bit better. This got me thinking, is having pure gas worth spending a little extra money or are people really just paying for peace of mind?

“I prefer to run full gasoline all the time…”

I’m inside the garage of Stillwater Automotive. It’s one of the slower hours of the day most of the guys are out to lunch but a couple are still here with their heads stuck underneath car hoods. The 80’s hard rock hit. Round and Round by Ratt plays in the background. I’m with the office manager Robbie Daugherty and he’s agreed to set me straight on the facts and fiction surrounding Clear gas and ethanol.

“When you look at the chemical compositions of ethanol and gasoline….gasoline is definitely a more dense fuel in terms of energy that you’re going to get per pound. So it does more efficiently. You’re going to get more miles per gallon out of gasoline than you are out of ethanol most of the time.”

“If it’s relatively close to the same cost I absolutely stick with straight gasoline.”

But, Robbie added that the mileage difference isn’t huge when you’re talking about 90 percent gas and 10 percent ethanol. It’s when the percentage of ethanol compared to gasoline grows that you really start losing efficiency.

Now for my next question. Can ethanol damage your car?

“No most modern fuel injected cars run great off of the 10 percent ethanol mix. Where you get into problems is with systems that aren’t designed to run off of that mixture. Which are going to be your older cars, your carbureted cars, lawn mowers, motorcycles, things like that don’t run great with ethanol.

“The danger that we do hear about is that alcohol is a water based fuel so it does allow moisture into the fuel lines so we’ve heard reports about corrosion and rust in the fuel systems of those older vehicles because they’re not made for that.”

But those older cars are the exception not the rule. That’s actually good news considering that over the next nine years the federal government will require oil companies to add increasing amounts of ethanol to the supply of gasoline until there is 36 billion gallons of the stuff in 2022.  Jim with OnCue says because demand for gas has dropped. In order to meet the federal standard oil companies want to push people away from clear gas and toward the ethanol product.

“A lot of this is kind of like when there was leaded gas and then there was unleaded. Nobody wanted to buy the unleaded until the price got enough different. I see the same thing happening with the E-10 and the clear. At some point they’re going to have to move over.”

Change may be inevitable, but Jim says it would be nice if lawmakers slowed down our ethanol nosedive to give his customers a little bit longer to catch up.

But for now, while we have a choice Robbie says most people shouldn’t stress out about which fuel is best.

“For most people that drive a modern fuel injected vehicle either one is going to run just fine, you’re not going to have problems either way so buy what’s available and don’t worry about it.”

Quinton Chandler worked at StateImpact Oklahoma from January 2018 to August 2021, focusing on criminal justice reporting.
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