New EPA policies regarding the year-round sale of E15 fuel mean boaters and riders must now be extra careful when filling up at the pump all season long. Changes in fuel availability could pose a risk to the engine in your boat, motorcycle, ATV or UTV and can even affect its warranty coverage if you don’t pay close attention at the pump.
E15 gasoline blend, which can pose a threat to marine and powersports engines, has historically been restricted from sale during the summer months. However, in response to higher fuel prices, the EPA has in recent years issued a series of emergency waivers that allow E15 fuel to be sold all year long at gas pumps across the U.S., a change that is likely to continue or become permanent.
E15 gasoline contains 15% ethanol derived from corn and, sometimes, other grains or sugars. Because of its heightened evaporative properties when the weather is sunny and hot, E15 gasoline contributes more significantly toward the development of summertime smog than petroleum-only and lower-ethanol fuels. Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2011 banned the sale of E15 during summer months.
However, in 2022 and 2023, major global issues have resulted in price increases for many consumer goods, with gasoline among the most affected products. As a countermeasure, the U.S. government announced EPA policy waivers that lifted restrictions against the summertime sale of E15 gasoline in an attempt to offer some financial relief to owners of the many road vehicles that are rated to run on E15. Additionally, some Midwestern states, especially those with a large number of ethanol producers and corn growers, have petitioned to make these waivers permanent. This means boaters and powersports enthusiasts are now more likely to encounter E15 fuel at the pump all year long for the foreseeable future.
While it might be a worthwhile alternative for some cars and trucks, E15 gasoline is not designed for most marine and powersports engines. Ethanol attracts water from condensation and the air, which in turn can wreak havoc on an internal-combustion engine and its fuel system. Problems that can be caused by too much ethanol in fuel (more than 10%) include the following:
Higher percentages of ethanol in gasoline also increase the chances of water settling into the fuel tank, especially during long periods of disuse, which makes E15 an even greater risk for many marine and powersports vehicles. For these reasons and more, using fuel with an ethanol content of more than 10% may also affect the manufacturer’s warranty coverage of your machine.
Engine manufacturers have communicated for years about the damage ethanol can cause. But the increased availability of E15 at pumps increases the risk of its use, whether by those looking to save some money and not aware of the damage ethanol can cause or by those who simply haven’t paid attention to the pump’s ethanol-content labels when fueling up.
No matter how eager you are to get outside, remember to slow down at the gas pump and read the ethanol-content labels, being sure to use only gasoline with ethanol content of 10% or less unless your vehicle’s manufacturer explicitly states otherwise.