The UK government have recently mandated the use of E10 unleaded as the primary fuel being sold on forecourts, replacing the previous standard of E5.
E10, or 10% Ethanol blend biofuel is the next step in the attempt to reduce emissions, which, if adopted by the majority of drivers, should reduce levels to an equivalent of removing 350,000 cars from UK roads and help to meet the environmental targets.
While a good move for the environment, the increase in Ethanol will have a negative effect on older vehicles; while all cars made after 2011 support this fuel, a lot of those built before, especially our much cherished classics have components that will suffer corrosion with E10.
The media have whipped up a storm around the change, but the reality is that a few fairly minor changes and increased maintenance should negate the majority of the issues.
The main issues of increased Ethanol in the fuel are corrosion based. It degrades older rubber pipes and diaphragms, as well as cork and Zinc (Aluminium too, to a lesser degree), while this happens with E5 fuel (as anyone who has stored a car without draining the fuel can testify to), the increased levels will expediate the process.
Long term storage can exacerbate these effects if the right work hasn't been done prior to the car being put away; fuel left in the tank, tubes and carbs will degrade and corrode them and thus should be removed. We provide a classic storage prep service if this is something you are interested in, please see our 'Long Term Storage prep' page and contact us for more information.
One issue that is not very well explained in the mainstream press is that Ethanol breaks down sludge deposits in fuel tanks and pipes, which can then become blockages in filters and jets etc., which, while not a directly corrosive effect causes its own problems.
The other main corrosion issue is that any water in the fuel system will draw out the Ethanol making the water acidic, which will then corrode metals such as fuel tanks and carburettor bowls.
A side effect that is only really felt by classic cars is the weakening of the mixture; Ethanol contains oxygen, the Increase in Ethanol means an increase in oxygen percentage, which in turn effectively reduces the fuel/air mixture and makes the engine run slightly lean. In a modern car this is automatically adjusted by the ECU, whereas a classic needs manual intervention. While not a direct degradation, unchecked it could have a negative effect on the engine and the running of the car.
All classic cars can run on E10, all will need some changes to be made, with some needing more than others, but some effects can be mitigated by increased maintenance and sensible storage.
Water in the fuel is a big contributor to corrosion, especially with E10, so taking extra care to make sure none enters the system is an easy step to reduce damage. It's not unusual for the odd drop to fall in if it's raining hard, or the car is wet when filling up, but drying the bodywork around the filler and using a station with good cover can go a long way to help.
The use of Ethonol rated pipes (we use R9 pipes, rated to E85 in our conversions) in place of the older rubber ones will prevent pipe wear and replacement of fuel pumps for E10 rated ones (again, the pumps we use are rated to E85) will ensure those components are secure. Some manufacturers are producing E10 rated diaphragms, but not all, so increased maintenance and inspection intervals will make sure your car isn't suffering from the effects.
E5 fuel is expected to be retained in forecourts for the foreseeable future, however, it may only be in the form of super-unleaded, which has its own price effect and of course, E5 will be phased out completely over longer period.
Hawk Classics provides an E10 conversion service, which sounds onerous, but in most cases isn't as involved as some would make out.
While what is possible may vary slightly from car to car, depending on components available, in general the basic conversion process will involve the following:
On average this service costs about £205+VAT in parts (pump, pipes and diaphragm) and 3 hours of labour @£65ph+VAT, £480 in total. While this is an estimate, based on the average classic, prices can vary, depending on the parts required.
For later cars that use pre-formed, bolt on pipes, we can offer E85 rated, custom made replacements at £45+VAT per half meter pipe.
For cars that have a rare or expensive fuel tank that cannot easily or economically be replaced, we offer a tank lining service, whereby it is removed, cleaned to make sure no deposits are left, then lined with a protective rubberised material.
For this service we charge £25+VAT for the liner material and 2 hours of labour @£65ph+VAT, £186 in total.
Some cars utilise carburettors that have very little in the way of rubberised or cork parts, such as some SUs etc., however, others can contain numerous seals, diaphragm and cork, all of which can corrode with the use of E10.
Where such a carb is used on the car we offer a rebuild service, whereby it is stripped, cleaned, fully serviced and all gaskets and diaphragms are replaced with E10 rated alternatives (where possible).
The carb rebuild rervice is 2 hours per carb @£65ph+VAT, plus the cost of the rebuild kit (prices cannot be given as this can vary widely depending on the application)
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