RUMFORD – Arctic Cat dealer Rick Hebert has yet to see a snowmobile with a blown engine caused by the new E10 gas, which is 10 percent ethanol.

Even so, at Mountain Valley Sports, his shop on Route 2, the phones rang nonstop last week with calls from worried snowmobilers.

“There was deep panic,” he said. And rightly so.

Ethanol breaks down much faster than unformulated gas, said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. “It is very, very sensitive to moisture and, unfortunately, Maine is a very wet state.”

Some people have had problems because they carried over fuel from the previous year, Meyers said. It’s a common practice, he said.

“They put their sled away with half a tank of gas left in it and then, come winter, they go and gas up now and there’s a bunch of water in there and it creates havoc,” Meyers said.

Most problems are being reported from snowmobile riders who topped off the remains of last season’s ethanol-free gas with the new blend.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, ethanol is a gasoline octane enhancer and oxygenate. It is designed to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and reduce harmful emissions such as benzene. Made from fermenting certain agricultural crops and wood, almost all of the ethanol produced in the United States comes from corn.

Most of the country has been using E10 gasoline for several years. A combination of federal regulatory requirements, tax incentives and market forces prompted oil wholesalers to begin selling it in Maine in November.

When problems began mounting, the bureau developed a Web site that specifically addresses ethanol issues and solutions:

On Dec. 19, the DEP issued a fact sheet about E10, alerting consumers to possible problems associated with use of ethanol in cars, snowmobiles and other small engines such as all-terrain vehicles, chain saws and lawnmowers.

Issues generally affect pre-1980 models of boats, motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, and lawn and garden equipment, among other things.

Hebert said newer snowmobiles from 1998 and up have electronic fuel injection that automatically adjusts to ethanol-blend fuels.

Some sleds also have a switch that can be turned on when using ethanol. Additionally, new four-stroke engines aren’t affected, but ethanol reduces fuel economy by about 3 percent.

However, the significant problem mentioned by Meyers also affected the Maine Warden Service, which has a newer fleet of 125 snowmobiles.

In as little as 10 days, ethanol will separate from gas, Warden Lt. Pat Dorian said in a Jan. 10 interview that was broadcast on WCSH. “If you burn straight ethanol in a snowmobile or a lawnmower or something like that, you’re going to cook the engine on it.”

Due to its affinity for water, ethanol absorbs excess water until it separates from the gas. Meyers warned against using dry gas to get rid of excess water when using ethanol. Since conventional dry gas is an alcohol, it increases the ethanol content and its effects.

According to a Maine Department of Environmental Protection fact sheet, when ethanol breaks down, the gasoline floats atop the water/ethanol combination that rests in the bottom of the tank.

Because fuel dispensed from the tank into the vehicle comes from the bottom of the tank, the engine will get a mixture of ethanol and water instead of E10 gasoline.

“This seldom occurs, but if it does, engine problems will occur quickly, even as the car is leaving the pump,” according to the DEP.

Either water gets introduced into the engine fuel system or the gasoline octane content is reduced below engine driving requirements. Both conditions may cause poor performance or engine stalling.

Ethanol is also an excellent solvent, Meyers said, “so, all of the gook that has accumulated in your tank over the years is now at least partially dissolved and working its way through your fuel system. So, you know, you’ve probably got to replace your fuel filters and things like that.”

Warden service spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said Friday that eight warden sleds had engine performance issues they believe may have been caused by ethanol in gas.

“What the wardens have been advised to do is to use super-unleaded gas and to use an additive,” she said.

The additive is called K100 and unless ordered online, it’s fast becoming hard to find in Maine, because snowmobilers are snapping it up, Hebert said. Snowmobilers could also use Sta-Bil Marine Formula Fuel Stabilizer, which boaters have used to address the E10 problem, Meyers said.

“Congress has mandated the use of ethanol and it will be unlikely we will be seeing a reduction of it in the future. But yeah, it’s definitely an issue and it’s going to be an issue this spring when people’s lawnmowers start blowing up and tractors and things like that,” he said.

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