Ethanol fuel can ruin boat motors

By BRENNAN LEATHERS

News Writer

It’s hard to imagine someone voluntarily using fuel that can damage a motor, but that’s what many boat owners are forced to do when they fill up their boat.

Due to environmental regulations adopted by the federal government, many gas stations and marina fueling stations are now using a fuel blend called E-10 that mixes 10 percent ethanol with 90 percent unleaded gasoline.

All outboard boat motors, as well as some inboard/outboard boat motors, are not compatible with the E-10 gas. Ethanol causes so many problems with outboard boat motors, that there are now a whole range of products designed to alleviate them, said Kyle Odom, co-owner of Bainbridge Marine.

“Honestly, fixing carburetors and fuel lines that have been damaged by ethanol keeps us in business,” Odom said. “We display some fuel lines that have been corroded by ethanol as a warning to our customers of what it can do.”

One of the main problems is that ethanol absorbs moisture from the air and introduces moisture into the engine, Odom said. That can cause various parts of the motor to rust, including the crankshaft, rod bearings and cylinders.

The other problem, perhaps more damaging, occurs when boats are used infrequently, such as once every couple of months, Odom said. A chemical process known as “phase separation” starts happening after about 30 days of the fuel sitting still, unused. The E-10 fuel blend breaks down into water, ethanol and unleaded gasoline. After separation, the boat’s fuel pick-up line is apt to take in just the ethanol, which can stress motors and cause power-head failure, Odom said.

“Ethanol eats at the aluminum used in carburetor and causes buildup in the fuel lines,” Odom said. “It’s a white ash that looks like a calcium deposit.”

One might think that the fix-all solution would be to buy ethanol-free gas, which has started to re-appear as an alternative at some gas stations, because some cars and trucks have had problems with ethanol. However, even the ethanol-free gas can start to separate after about 120 days of non-use, which could still cause problems for a boat motor.

Some of the products that are now sold to help reduce or prevent damage by ethanol are an ethanol-proof primer bulb for fuel hoses, and new fuel hoses that are more adapted to deal with ethanol. A fuel/water separating filter grabs contaminants and separates water from ethanol-enriched fuel, ahead of onboard filters and injectors.

There are also special lubricants that clean out motor parts, and fuel stabilizers and conditioners that help prevent oxidation and phase separation in ethanol fuel blends.

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