Survey: Ethanol repair issues growing

Ethanol continues to be a major cause of engine damage and other repair issues, prompting concerns about the growing use of E15.

That’s according to the latest survey of Boating Industry readers. We surveyed readers of our print and digital products about ethanol and other service department challenges in April and May. Respondents were a mix of personnel from dealerships, engine and boat manufacturers, marinas and more.

Full results of the survey will appear in the July issue of Boating Industry.

Ethanol damage increasing

Ethanol appears to be playing an even bigger role in service issues than it was just a year ago.

Eighty-seven percent of our respondents reported that their business has seen engine damage caused by ethanol. That was up from 73 percent in the same survey in April 2015.

While it may be helping drive service department business, frequent issues run the risk of driving more people out of boating.

As one New York boat dealer bluntly put it: “Ethanol makes us money … it sucks for the consumer.”

A Florida-based manufacturer echoed that:

“Ethanol is a boom for the service departments. Ethanol is a HUGE drag on our industry because it negatively affects the customers. It makes them hate boating. It ruins their day, their boat, and their entire boating experience.”

And it is no small problem, either, representing a significant portion of repairs based on what our survey respondents are seeing. Fourteen percent said that ethanol-related problems are responsible for more than half of all engine repairs, while 60 percent said it represents at least 20 percent of the repair issues. Those numbers are basically unchanged from 2015.

E15 fears

From the federal government to engine manufacturers, there is agreement that E15 – fuel blends of 15 percent ethanol – should not be used in boats or other small engines. Still, there is growing angst over the issue, with 81 percent of survey respondents saying they are “very concerned” about the growing use of E15 – up from 74 percent last year. Only 2 percent – down from 7 percent in 2015 – are not concerned at all.

Most notably, many respondents raised concerns of misfueling at roadside gas stations.

Those worries would appear to be well-founded. According to a 2015 BoatUS survey, 40 percent of its members fill up their boats at a gas station and other surveys have showed even higher levels.

And in a Harris Poll study conducted for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute earlier this year, 64 percent of American adults said they weren’t sure or didn’t pay attention to the type of gas they used. In the same survey, 66 percent said they will use the least expensive grade of gasoline whenever possible and 60 percent assume that any gas that is sold at a gas station must be safe for all of their vehicles and equipment.

Our respondents also don’t believe boaters are knowledgeable about ethanol, with only 3 percent saying that their customers know a lot about the issue. Nearly three-quarters think their customers either know nothing (15 percent) or only a little bit (58 percent) about ethanol.

On the other hand, most in the industry consider themselves fairly well-informed: 66 percent know a lot about ethanol issues, while only 8 percent said they know nothing or only a little bit.


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  1. I am all for educating and promoting good preventative maintenance but I have to ask this question. How many mechanics have the time or resources to identify if ethanol is truly the issues?

    Phase separation is more likely in warmer climates and by education and promoting the use of a very low cost additive package; most boaters will not have this issues. As it relates to fuel system damage, most mechanics are not aware that ethanol is not the most aggressive portion of gasoline. Per someone at ASTM, the warning statement was written by Mercury Marine. One can find this in aviation gasoline but Big Oil doesn’t want this in on road gasoline standards.

    Variability in gasoline and gasoline-oxygenate blends composition, particularly aromatics content, may result in materials incompatibility problems. Some types of elastomers and plastics used to make gaskets and seals may swell with higher concentrations of aromatics in fuel and then shrink with very low concentrations of aromatics, which may result in a compromised ability to seal.

    I would be nice to find folks on both sides of this issue to first identify the concerns and then promote good education rather than just point fingers at each other.

  2. Agreed. In the meantime boat owners should send their repair bills to the Iowa governor and legislature along with the politicians supporting them.

  3. We just sent a 3 year old generator with 5 hours use to a repair center. The engine threw a rod which
    produced a golf ball size hole in the block. The manufacturer has denied warranty due to hydrostatic
    lock from the carburetor float sticking. Ethanol was mentioned as the source of the problem.

    Our customer is looking to us to cover the $4500 estimated repair bill. Our service manager, a 30 year
    employee, was after all the person who hit the start and run switches that led to the thrown rod.
    Living the dream as a boat dealer!!

  4. Consider the contribution of a half cup of salt water that makes it into a 150 gallon gasoline tank. It goes to the bottom of the tank Do you hear the sucking noise as the water which is full of salts is separated from the salts and absorbed by the gasoline. When the mixture of water to salt gets to a certain % the salt will begin to precipitate to the bottom of the tank. eventually the water will be all absorbed and there will be a slushy mix of Salt and gasoline on the bottom of the tank. Our boater fills the tank up and goes out for another ride and gets another half cup of salt water. Every time a small amount of water enters the tank the water is absorbed and the salt is left behind. It is building up a fine sludge at the bottom of the tank. The salt is crystallized and very fine. Say less than 10 Micron crystals. Well there will come a day when The boater is caught out and is pounding back from some where he wishes he wasn’t. AND as his knees and feet hurt and he is holding on for dear life the accumulated salt sludge on the bottom of his almost empty tank is now completely mixed with the gasoline. This cloudy mix gets lifted into his fuel water filter but the very fine salt crystals pass through the 10 micron filter. They get into his fuel pump and cause a failure they get in tot he injectors and cylinders and cause a failure. Now this boat that was just coming back from a rough place has lost power. The stern is presenter to a breaker and the boat sinks. It flips and peoples lives are in danger. If out boards float at all they float upside down and bow up. It sounds familiar to me. Young kids jumping waves, Football players, fishermen in the Gulf Stream. When water gets into the sunken tank the salt dissolves. No culprit. and the cause is GONE. Engine failure? Just thinkin’ We see this milky salt haze quite often in the filters of boats that have been shaken up in rough conditions.

  5. I understand that salts are put in diesel fuel as a drier for the prevention of corrosion in our pipeline.
    Primrose oil company manufactures a diesel fuel additive that dissolve the salts and soaps in the pipeline down to less than 1micron in size. This also has a 350 micron wear scar better than high sulfur fuel. It’s called power klenz 5007 ID, which stands for internal deposit. This will prevent any issues with water or salt. If you need more information feel free to contact me

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