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E85 Fuel: More Power or More Problems?

When you’re racing for the finish line, giving your vehicle every edge you can on the competition is crucial. That’s why many racers with flex-fuel vehicles chose to run E85 fuel instead of typical gasoline, but why? We’ll break down the pros and cons of this high-octane fuel option and how you can harness its full potential.

What is Ethanol Fuel?

The ethanol used in engines is a biofuel made mostly from corn that is fermented like regular drinking alcohol that is then is treated with chemicals to make it poisonous and very much not like drinking alcohol. Ethanol is added to normal pump gas to help the engines burn cleaner but is only at about a 10-15% ethanol to gas ratio. E85 fuel, on the other hand, is about 85% ethanol to 15% gas. If you have a flex-fuel vehicle it’s already good to go, but if you have a standard pump gas vehicle it requires some heavy modifications before it can feel that extra boost.

What Are the Positives?

E85 fuel can give you a significant boost in power and torque without breaking the bank for racing fuels. It has a base octane rating of 105 and has the bonus of added cooling properties that add even more knock resistance than racing fuels with the same rating. This means that it keeps your engine timing accurate under extreme pressures so the fuel won’t ignite early, creating ‘knock’ and possibly doing extensive damage to your engine.

E85 is also cheaper by the gallon than traditional pump gas by about a dollar and only a quarter of the price of other high-octane racing fuels. Making it a great cost-effective option for racers and casual speed demons alike.

What Are the Downsides?

Ethanol fuel may give you more power, but it has a lot of extra quirks you need to consider. To start, ethanol fuels have about 33% less combustion power, which means you have to burn more fuel for the same amount of power. This isn’t a big concern for race only vehicles, but daily drivers need to be aware of this lack of fuel efficiency, even with E85 being slightly cheaper at the pump.

The other issues are all side effects of what ethanol fuel can do to your vehicle if it isn’t properly equipped and maintained.

Because ethanol attracts water it can create rust and seal breakage over time, and if E85 is left in the fuel tank for long periods it can attract more water vapor and potentially cause engine damage. Ethanol is also an anti-lubricant, so smaller engines like snowmobiles and two-stroke engine motorcycles need extra lubricants to continue working without engine failures. If your vehicle isn’t equipped properly certain materials used in traditional fuel setups can even break down like plastics, rubber, and even certain metals. If your flex-fuel vehicle has a bigger engine, the anti-lubrication issue doesn’t apply to you. Bigger engines always need extra lubrication than smaller ones, even with traditional gas, so you should be safe from most of E85’s corrosive properties.

How to Make It Work?

For a flex-fuel vehicle, E85 is already compatible with all engine parts. All you need to worry about is optimization. Most fuel tuners on the market have the stoich point (optimal air/fuel ratio) set for traditional gasoline. They still work for E85, but a little math is required in the tuning process to adjust the numbers correctly for the new stoich point.

If you need to modify your motorcycle for ethanol fuel, you will definitely need to invest in a larger fuel system that includes new pumps and fuel injectors to get you started. If you need a place to start there are tons of instructions and full kits online to help you get there and get moving.

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