Hey, I own a flex-fuel vehicle. Now what?

E85editThere are somewhere between 15 million and 17.5 million flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road in the United States. The Big 3 Detroit automakers have delivered on their promise to make half of all their new vehicles (built since the 2012 model year) flex-fuel.

With so many FFVs out there, why don’t more people know that those vehicles run great on ethanol?

FFVs can accommodate any ethanol blend, from the widely used E10 (which contains up to 10 percent ethanol … what most of us fill up on every day) to E15, E30, all the way up to E85 (which actually contains anywhere between 51 percent and 83 percent ethanol). Engines in FFVs can burn any mixture of ethanol and regular gasoline.

And yet surveys consistently show that only a fraction of people who own an FFV know that it can run on fuel other than the garden-variety E10.

How do you know you’re driving an FFV?

  • The most common identifier for vehicle that’s been “branded” an FFV by the manufacturer is a FlexFuel badge somewhere on the vehicle’s exterior, usually the rear.
  • FFVs normally have a sticker inside the fuel door.
  • For good measure, the gas cap is yellow.
  • The vehicle’s owner’s manual will mention it’s an FFV.
  • Often a particular make and model of car will be an FFV, and an identical one won’t be. To tell the difference, visit PropelFuels.com (a distributor of ethanol). They have a handy list of vehicle manufacturers, with a drop-down menu showing which of their models are FFVs. Just to confirm, they list key digits or letters in the VIN that will be a clear indicator.

Most new pickup trucks, and many SUVs, are branded as flex-fuel, so you’re probably used to seeing FFVs on the road. If you’re the proud owner of one, your next step is to find the fuel that will not only make the vehicle’s engine run more smoothly, with fewer knocks and pings, it burns cleaner, emitting fewer toxic substances than regular gas.

Check the Alternative Fuels Data Center website to find stations that sell E85 and other ethanol blends. Many of them are located in the Farm Belt and other Midwestern states, owing to the close proximity to corn-ethanol processing plants. But there are some 1,300 such stations around the country.

For various reasons, automakers build some vehicles that can run on ethanol but aren’t branded as “FlexFuel.” These are called “twins,” because in every meaningful way they’re identical to the FFV version. And there are millions of those on the road, too. All they require is a simple software update that can be done by a mechanic with the know-how.

If only a small percentage of FFV owners out there started using E85, we could make a serious dent in oil consumption in the United States.

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