Only about 12 million out of the more than 240 million light-duty vehicles on the roads today are approved by manufacturers to use E15 gasoline, based on a survey of auto manufacturers conducted by AAA. The group said its automotive engineering experts "also have reviewed the available research and believe that sustained use of E15 in both newer and older vehicles could result in significant problems, such as accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false 'check engine' lights for any vehicle not approved by its manufacturer to use E15."
"It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle," said AAA President & CEO Robert Darbelnet. "Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers."
AAA said it fears unsuspecting consumers using E15 could end up with engine problems that might not be covered by their vehicles' warranties. It cited five manufacturers—BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen—as on record saying their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by the use of E15. Seven additional auto makers—Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo—have stated that the use of E15 does not comply with the fuel requirements specified in their owner's manuals and may void warranty coverage, according to the organization.
The only vehicles currently approved by auto makers to use E15 are flex-fuel models, 2001 model-year and newer Porsches, 2012 model-year and newer GM vehicles and 2013 model-year Ford vehicles. These approvals extend only to cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles such as SUVs, according to AAA. The use of E15 is expressly prohibited in heavy-duty vehicles, boats, motorcycles, power equipment, lawn mowers and off-road vehicles.
"The sale and use of E15 should be suspended until additional gas pump labeling and consumer education efforts are implemented to mitigate problems for motorists and their vehicles," Mr. Darbelnet continued. "Consumers should carefully read pump labels and know their auto manufacturer's recommendations to help prevent any problems from E15."
AAA is urging fuel producers and regulators to do a better job of educating consumers about potential dangers before selling E15 gasoline. "This outreach should include a consumer education campaign and more effective pump labels, among other potential safeguards, to protect consumers and their vehicles, AAA said. It also recommends additional testing to conclusively determine the impact of E15 use on vehicle engines and fuel system components. At least 10 gas stations currently sell E15 and that number is expected to grow, "which means now is the time to suspend sales before more retailers begin offering the fuel," the group said.
The EPA in June officially approved the sale of E15 after receiving a waiver request from producers interested in expanding the use of corn-based ethanol. Despite objections by auto manufacturers—and other groups including the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA)—the EPA approved the use of E15 gasoline in flex-fuel vehicles and 2001 model year and newer cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles and SUVs.
AAA said it is urging consumers to follow the recommendations of manufacturers to truly protect themselves from voided warranties or potential damage.
The motorist group added that it supports the development and use of alternative fuels, noting that more than 95 percent of the gasoline sold in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent ethanol. Lower ethanol blends should remain available to consumers, it said, while the challenges with E15 are addressed.
The survey findings related to consumer knowledge of E15 came from a telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,012 adults comprising 504 men and 508 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental U.S., according to AAA.