You’ve seen the badges on the rear ends of cars, trucks and SUVs, likely while you’re stuck in traffic. They say “FlexFuel” or, more descriptively, “FlexFuel … E85 Ethanol.” Almost 20 million vehicles in the United States come off the assembly line as flex-fuel, meaning they can run perfectly well on any mixture of gasoline and ethanol, up to E85 (which is actually 51 percent to 83 percent ethanol, the rest gasoline).

But not all of them have that shiny badge declaring them flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs). Sometimes a yellow gas cap is the dead giveaway, but those caps only started appearing on model-year 2008 vehicles (2006 for General Motors). Buried deep inside the owner’s manual, too, is a notice about which fuels are approved to run in your vehicle.

Now, there’s an easy tool that will tell you whether you’re one of those lucky 20 million whose vehicle can take E85. Fuel Freedom Foundation has just unveiled the Check Your Car tool. You can enter in your vehicle’s make, model, year and engine size, and it’ll tell you whether you’re driving an FFV.

This tool is long overdue, because ever since the first FFV rolled out of the factory — the 1996 Ford Taurus, which actually could run on gasoline, ethanol and methanol — FFV owners have consistently not taken advantage of all these engines can do. Less than 10 percent of such drivers use E85. Part of the reason likely is that only a small percentage of the nation’s fueling stations offer it. But that proportion is rising: E15, which has twice as much ethanol as regular gasoline (which contains up to 10 percent ethanol already), is spreading around the country, and more stations are offering E85 as well.

Using higher ethanol blends, and less gasoline, has multiple benefits:

  • It’s cheaper for consumers. The Renewable Fuels Association says blending ethanol into the nation’s gasoline supply saves the average American family about $1,200 a year.
  • It’s a natural octane enhancer, which makes engines perform better.
  • Since ethanol burns more efficiently, it results in fewer tailpipe emissions being released into the air, which is better for air quality.
  • It’s an American-made fuel, requiring American-based jobs. The U.S. only produces less than 10 million barrels of crude a day but consumes some 19 million. The difference must be imported.

Check Your Car is part of our Fuels 101 initiative, which will soon include other features such as an education page about the various fuel types; how to find a station that sells alternative fuels (for the time being, use the Alternative Fuels Data Center’s locator); and how to find a kit that could convert your gasoline-only engine to run on ethanol.

So check back soon. In the meantime, kick the tires and take Check Your Car for a test drive.