Ethanol tolerance in non-flex fuel vehicles

My husband and I are currently driving around South America in our 2010 Ford F-150. We recently found out that all Brazilian gas has 20-25% ethanol. Our owner’s manual says our truck can only take up to 10%, so we’re concerned about the effects the Brazilian gas might have in the six months we plan to treavel there. A fellow traveler said they spent four months there in a 2002 Honda Element and only suffered slightly reduced fuel economy and power. We would appreciate any input on whether using the Brazilian gas could cause serious and/or lasting effects. We obviously don’t want major car troubles so far from home!

I am only guessing, but I wouldn’t recommend you do this to a car you cherish. But if you are not so tied to your vehicle, you will be able to use the local ethanol, it will not destroy all of your seals instantly, but may compromise them reducing the longevity of your car.

So the Honda Element owner is probably right, you can get buy, but do expect problems down the road if you hold the vehicle for a while.

Were You Driving Around And Just Headed That Way On A Whim ?
Did You Get Any Information From a Reputable Travel Agency Or Information Agency ?
Did You Check To See If You Even Have Insurance On The Truck ?

I have a major insurance underwriter and they won’t cover my going to South America.
Also, I’d never run any of my vehicles on that gas/alcohol blend. Our U.S. government is trying to install E15 (15% ethanol) pumps in this country for use in ordinary cars, but they’re getting resistance from people who are not politicians, people who know cars.

My wife’s car is FLEX fuel approved for E85, but after reading the Owner’s Manual, I’d never put that stuff in her car.


One problem you might have is running too lean. Rather than the 14.7:1 air/fuel ratio for gasoline, ethanol burns best at around 10:1.

OBDII cars ('96 and later) have a feedbaxck mechanism that allows them to adjust fuel mixture…within certain limits. Running too much ethanol% can make a car “run out of trim” and run too lean. This would trigger a “check engine” code, and (if prolonged), possibly cause engine damage.

Just messing around with the idea on a '98 contour taught me it triggered a CEL at around 30% ethanol.

I would not use anything more than E10 in a non-flex fuel vehicle. There are several issues to consider:

  1. Ethanol eats away at rubber and plastic parts with which it comes into contact.

  2. Flex fuel vehicles are designed to adjust the air/fuel mixture for various combinations of ethanol and gasoline.

Your friend’s Element may have survived the trip, but there’s no telling what kind of unseen damage was done.

you may be able to have the engine computer retuned. am not sure what the aftermarket for f-150’s looks like, but there is likely a engine reprogrammer available. After this you need to contact someone who tune engines.tell him your situation. he will adjust your fuel trims for the higher ethanol content. you may aslo need to have a wide band oxygen sensor installed in the exhaust.

the wideband sensor will be used to reprogram your vehicle. the engine reprogrammer will be used to datalog your engine and wideband sensor. you email this info to the engine tuner person you find. he will email you back a file to upload to your engine computer.

good news is you can talk to the tuner - and tell him that you want a fuel efficiency tune, more power, better towing capability and the like.

The bad news is that if the tuner messes up, the engine is toast. Kinda hard to find a shop like that in the middle of their vacation…

Brazil has the ethanol limit set by law there, and the lower to upper concentrations are from 18% to 25% at the moment. It was fixed at 20-25, but lowered to 18 after shortages of sugar cane (they make theirs from sugar cane, not corn grain). There are no stations where you will get a lower mix than those, and most will be pushing to the 25% limit.

Ethanol is a rougher substance than regular gasoline, too - kind of like it has grains of sand in it. Over time, running this can also damage fuel lines, pumps and injectors. At least, the US version of ethanol is - I’m not sure about the Brazilian variety.

I’m sure it can be modified, but not sure it would be worth the hassle - or money. If you’re gong to be there for 6 months, what about a lease?

Within the past two years, I read an automotive engineer opinion suggesting that many ( most?) cars made today are already flex fuel ready. All they need is citification for warranty purposes. I personally am of the opinion that manufactures have found it is less exensive to make all models one way then make some with different capabilities. Cars are much more tolerable then we give then credit for. Having said that, I’m not ready to run high per cent ethanol beyound what the manual says unless it is well past warranty …especially on my opinion. I feel the Element could very well be one of those. Unfortunately, as Whitey intimated, you may not find out for a few years when problems arise.

I have a hunch that Dag is correct. The cost to get a vehicle certified as flex-fuel capable (which probably includes an in-dept evaluation of the design package by the D.O.T…also expensive) probably prevents manufacturers from certifying more vehicles than is necessary to satisfy the fed requirements. In short, it would seem that making them all flex-fuel capable (thus allowing platform sharing), and only certifying the number necessary, would be the cost-effective way to go.

I offer the disclaimer that I have no inside knowledge that this is true. It’s just a hunch on my part.

I doubt that ‘most cars are flex fuel capable’, if you mean able to handle any mix of ethanol from 0-85% That’s a huge change in energy content, requiring quite a bit of programming and fuel system flexibility. Might they be ‘compatible’ with E85, in that components won’t be damaged by exposure to E85? Maybe, but that’s much different than ‘capable’ of running with it.

You exported a U.S. model vehicle to Brazil?? The higher ethanol content should not cause any problems as long as the trucks engine control computer can adjust the fuel mixture so the engine operates properly. It can PROBABLY do that without any problems. You should contact Ford Customer Service in the States and ask THEM…

With all the flex-fuel vehicle models and non flex-fuel vehicle of the same model. Has anyone been asked if you have a flex-fuel model when buying a say a fuel pump? My guess is its now all in the programing of the computer. All the O-rings and parts of the fuel system now have to be able to withstand the ethanol that is in the fuel we buy, no mater what the %.

“All the O-rings and parts of the fuel system now have to be able to withstand the ethanol that is in the fuel we buy, no mater what the %.”

That has historically been one if the big issues. I don’t know if things have changed, but many manufactures said in the recent past that increasing ethanol content even to 15% could be a corrosion problem. I just looked at and very few vehicles are E85 compatible.

Looks like you are getting answers all over the board which is not unusual. I think the best advice was to call Ford direct and ask them or at least a US dealer.

When I was sitll working last year, one of the drivers put E-85 in two different company cars. I can’t remember if it was the Ford Taurus or Impalas, but it cost big bucks to get them towed and back on the road again. I think the Impalas were mostly flex but not the Fords.