I am not sure why, but I have had a lot of people ask me recently about flex fuel vehicles, what they are, and if they should use E85, since it is cheaper than gasoline.
Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) are designed to run on gasoline or gasoline-ethanol blends of up to 85% ethanol (E85). Except for a few engine and fuel system modifications, they are identical to gasoline-only models. FFVs experience no loss in performance when operating on E85, and some generate more torque and horsepower than when operating on gasoline. However, since ethanol contains less energy per volume than gasoline, FFVs typically get about 30% fewer miles per gallon when fuelled with E85, thus wiping out any savings per gallon, and will cause you to go to the pump more often.
FFVs have been produced since the 1990s, and more than one hundred models are currently available. Since FFVs look just like gasoline-only models, you may be driving an FFV and not even know it. Check your owner’s manual to find out if your car is a flex fuel vehicle if you are not sure. Usually there is a badge on the back of the car, and they have yellow gas caps.
An Associated Press reporter, Bob Greco, recently wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, it is a little complicated, but interesting:
According to EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration), energy adjusted ethanol prices have been and remain higher than gasoline blendstock; adjusted for energy, E85 prices are higher than E10. According to AAA, E85 has cost consumers more, when accounting for fuel economy loss, for as long as the organization has been tracking E85 retail prices. EPA has acknowledged that FFV (flex fuel vehicle) owners who have been purchasing E85 have been doing so for reasons other than the economic benefit. As a result, EIA data show very low demand for E85 (approximately 45 million gallons/year), and no demand growth between 2010 and 2013. Lack of demand growth is also evidenced by data collected by Minnesota and Iowa that show combined E85 consumption in 2013 was less than in 2008 and 2011 and has remained within a range of 20-30 million gallons since 2006.
Independent retailers have largely recognized the lack of consumer demand for E85 when weighing the potential costs and benefits associated with offering the fuel. Only about 6 percent of vehicles can use E85, and incentives for making more ethanol flex fuel compatible vehicles (i.e. FFVs) in the future are phasing out as a result of the new NHTSA/EPA CAFE/tailpipe GHG requirement. Even owners and operators of FFVs have largely rejected E85; the reduced economy inherent with E85 use results in a shorter driving range and more frequent refueling stops. Some retailers made the investments to sell E85, only to revert the infrastructure back to gasoline.
Bottom line: Use E85 if you can find it, but do not expect any savings from it.