I put ethanol in my old Camry. Guess what happened next

My 2000 Toyota Camry, amazing and durable as it is, does not fit the technical definition of a flex-fuel vehicle. I dusted off my owner’s manual, and nowhere in its 268 pages is ethanol mentioned. The only guidance is: “Your new vehicle must use only unleaded gasoline.”

Well, it’s not so new anymore, so you can’t tell me what to do, Manual. Besides, this is America. So I decided to take my 17-year-old car, which now has 199,988 miles on it, to an E85 pump and roll the dice.


My hot rod, now fueled by one-quarter cleaner, cheaper, American-made ethanol.

A G&M Oil Chevron/ExtraMile station in Fullerton was selling Pearson Fuels-supplied-E85 (up to 85 percent ethanol, the rest gasoline) for 85 cents a gallon, so it was worth the trip up the 5 freeway. I swiped my card, grabbed the nozzle (with its clearly labeled yellow “E85” insignia on the handle) and immediately began robbing Big Oil of a couple bucks’ worth of revenue.

I know from talking to smart car people that some drivers mix their own premium fuel by combining regular gas with E85. Since many newer cars can run just fine with higher concentrations than E10 (the blend we get at the pump every day), there’s not much chance of damage. But if you don’t have a flex-fuel vehicle (built to run on E85), and you cross a certain threshold of ethanol, the check-engine light will come on (and go away once the on-board computer recognizes its familiar gasoline again).

Using my iPhone calculator, I determined that my tank had about 11.9 gallons, and since regular gas already has 10 percent ethanol, I had 1.19 gallons of ethanol already. So I fueled up with 3.231 gallons of E85 (total cost: $2.79). That pushed my ethanol total to 3.94 gallons, out of 15.84 gallons in the tank, for a blend of 24.85 percent ethanol. I made my own E25!

(Here’s the part where I warn the reader that this kind of fueling is not condoned, by Fuel Freedom, G&M, Pearson, the Environmental Protection Agency, or anyone else. Blends higher than E10 are only approved for vehicles model year 2001 and newer. This was my decision alone. And since my car, having logged enough miles for eight trips around the globe, is well beyond its useful life, and since I’m in the market for a new flex-fuel vehicle anyway, I figured, what the hell. OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, we can move on.)

The ethanol-haters will be displeased that my car started just fine. No warning lights flashed. The engine didn’t sputter and die. To answer the headline, all that happened was an utterly normal commute to work.

Although, I swear I got a slight boost in horsepower, which isn’t uncommon when putting in high-octane E85. I tore onto the freeway entrance ramp, overtook a new Audi, and zoomed down the 5 so quickly that the fast-food wrappers on the floor rolled about like tumbleweeds. My heap now feels like this:


Posted to Flickr by ARI camaro.

I’ll keep you posted about the car’s performance. But but the time it breathes its last, it’s more likely to be something else that kills it, not 25 percent ethanol.

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5 replies
  1. Michael Scholl
    Michael Scholl says:

    I did the same with my 2001 Mercury Sable. I was driving back and forth from Detroit to Chicago every week, and the difference in cost between regular and E85 was a dollar a gallon. With 190k miles on the odometer, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. I was pleasantly surprised that, even at concentrations of 40%, my mileage was only 1 mpg less 23 mpg vs 24 mpg) with the higher ethanol level. I did this for two year and the only difference I experienced was a $16 savings every week! Today the car has 229k miles on it and gets better mileage than the original EPA rating.

    • Marcellyn Dell
      Marcellyn Dell says:

      Both of you men are doing what I’ve done for the past 15 years every time I can locate an E85 pump. And that is to splash blend my gasoline with higher alcohol volume content. Typically I go to about 35% alcohol in my Ford 250 Pickup, wife’s Jeep and Econoline Van which all do extremely well on higher volume alcohol blends. In the lawn mower and weed eater, I use E85 as a substitute to gasoline, just pull the choke out a bit to provide more BTU’s. In motorcycles, I use about 50% alcohol and do NOTHING ELSE except operate the equipment and marvel at a different, much lighter emissions plume. Glad Mr. Landon talked about this recent trial of his with adding some E85. In Conifer, Colorado, E85 (actually it is E70) is selling for $1.31 per gallon today.

  2. George
    George says:

    The car industry does not want your car to last forever, or wants you to loose interest in your car because of performance, so yeah, E85 will be better for your car if it has the equipment for it and it will be better performance as well as better for environment.

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