AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, has warned that filling gas tanks with a blend of 15 percent ethanol could damage cars and void warranties. This follows 12 carmakers announcing that using the new "E15" blend may either void warranties or that warranties may not cover fuel-related claims.
AAA, acting on behalf of its 50 million members, has called for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily halt sales of the fuel to reevaluate its potential harm. We agree.
In addition, ethanol, which is manufactured from grain such as corn, produces questionable, if any, fuel economy benefits. Moreover, the government subsidies and mandates that pave the way for its entry into the market appear to benefit corn growers and ethanol manufacturers more than consumers and the environment.
As with other government intrusions into the free market, the EPA's ethanol love affair distorts supply and demand. If the fuel were beneficial enough on its own, the market would respond. But even in the Midwest, where E15 is more available, sales have not taken off, according to industry observer Dennis Simanaitis, a former Road and Track editor.
Gasoline with a 10 percent mixture of ethanol already constitutes 90 percent of the U.S. market, following government approval decades ago. But in June, the EPA approved the sale of the higher percentage mixture, despite cautions from automakers who cited potential damage to vehicles.
Private sector resistance has not dissuaded the EPA, which also doesn't appear to be acting on behalf of motorists, as is the AAA, a federation of 51 independently operated motor clubs. Ethanol was advanced ostensibly as a more environmentally friendly option to 100 percent gasoline. Even that claim by the government has been challenged.
In 2006, John A. Baden, chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, argued that ethanol consumes more resources than it saves. That year, Consumer Reports tests using a Chevrolet Tahoe found that an 85-15 blend of gasoline and ethanol decreased, rather than increased, mileage — from 21 mpg highway to 15, and from 9 mpg to 7 in city driving. A later University of Minnesota study found that corn ethanol may be as harmful as gasoline, and an even worse health threat.
BMW, Chrysler, Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen say their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by the use of E15. Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp., Mazda Motor Corp., Mercedes-Benz and Volvo said E15 may void their warranties.
Perhaps most troubling is that AAA says 95 percent of U.S. consumers have not even heard of E15, and only 5 percent of cars on the road can use it without risk of damage. The possibility of E15 use in older cars, more likely to be harmed, is an unnecessary risk, not in the public's interest.
We agree with the AAA's call for pulling E15 off the market until its consequences are better understood. In the meantime, the EPA also should reassess the entire ethanol fuel issue, which likely would not be viable without government mandates for increasing use of so-called renewable fuels and manufacturing subsidies.
REPRINTED FROM THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER