Outboard Motors Gas and Ethanol Alert

Fuel Costs Rising

With the rising cost of fuel prices these days, we are all becoming more aware of the cost of gas and looking for ways to save fuel, and more importantly save money on fuel.

In addition, since we in North America are very fond of our gasoline driven vehicles etc, and we get the majority of our fuel for those vehicles from foreign sources, there is a desire to develop fuels that we can produce right here, thus reducing our dependence on fuels from other countries.


Combine the above with the concerns of burning fossil fuels and their affects on the environment and you have people trying to come up with alternative fuels and ways to reduce our consumption of oil and gas. One of the fuels that has been developed and put into use is called“ethanol”

An Alternative To Gasoline

Gas producers began introducing ethanol as a alternative to gasoline years ago. Ethanol is a “bio-fuel” made from corn, maize or sugarcane. It can also be made from distilling oil, but the bio type, i.e. made from corn, is usually what is being produced, particularly in North America.

Actually, what is made from the above mentioned bio products is something called “ethyl alcohol” which, when combined, or “blended” with gasoline, becomes what is known as “ethanol.”

Ethanol Used To Stretch Fuel Supplies

In order to stretch fuel supplies, and because it is seen as environmentally positive, ethanol is added to gasoline that we use in our cars, trucks, boats and other small engines.

One thing about it, if we can grow our fuel, in the form of corn for instance, we’d be making a big dent in the amount of fuel oil we’d have to buy from foreign interests. So in that regard, ethanol or bio-fuels, are very important.

These days, if you are buying regular gas, (the least expensive) you are probably getting a fuel mixture containing something in the vicinity of 10-15% ethanol. This mixture burns cleaner and is made from renewable bio-sources, making it popular with enviromentalists.

Adding ethanol to regular fuels decreases the amount of fossil fuels that we burn. That’s a good thing, but then again, that’s not necessarily a good thing for those of us who have outboard motors boats, and use other small gas engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and four wheelers, motor cycles etc.

Outboard Motors and Small Engines and Ethanol

It turns out, at this point, ethanol is not good for small engines. Our New Brunswick correspondent, Lonesome Larry, has recently done some research on this topic, and emailed me his report an important Cottage Chronicles Alert!! as follows:

Regular gas now has about 10% ethanol if all the hype is anywhere near the truth, that should be no real problem for modern auto engines.

However, in two-cycle engines the reason we mix the oil with the gas is to give the engine lubrication, the oil and the ratio of mix are not just guess work they are very important.

Ethanol Thins Oil

Ethanol will thin the oil and proper lubrication may not occur. Use high test gasoline, no ethanol, all your little engines will love you, even the four strokes, it seems that the ethanol will separate and sink to the bottom of the fuel tank if the gas sits for a long period of time much like water does, so the first few gulps of fuel might be pure ethanol , that will heat things up in a hurry and take the oil film off the cylinder.

I have come to put great stock in any reports from Lonesome Larry, he knows what he is talking about or at least convinces me he knows what he is talking about….. He’s also quite timely, because just as I was reading his email report this morning, my Dad called to tell me to turn on the radio, CBC, as noted mechanic and vehicle expert Doug Bethune was on the radio noon hour call-in show, and they were all talking about, you guessed it, “ethanol”

Seems Doug and Larry are on the same page and in this case, Lonesome Larry does know what he is talking about. Ethanol might be fine for newer, modern car engines, but when it comes to outboard motors, boats, four wheelers, chain saws, even motorcycles, and other small engines, both 2-stroke and 4-stroke, ethanol is not a good thing.

In fact, Doug Bethune said don’t use regular gas in outboard motors at all, because of the ethanol content. Outboard motors are almost always “running under load,” as Doug called it, so higher octane gasoline is important, and it doesn’t have ethanol.

Ethanol also has a tendency to absorb water, which is a real problem with outboard motors and boat gas tanks which are typically not as tightly sealed at the gas cap as vehicles gas tanks.

Boats sitting at the wharf can attract moisture which gets into the gas tank, helped along by the ethanol, which ultimately hurts outboard motors.

Obviously water in your fuel is not only going to dilute your fuel’s octane, it will also get inside your engine causing corrosion and rust.

Ethanol Is A Solvent

Ethanol also acts as a cleanser, or better said, a solvent, which can be quite hard on a outboard motors internal workings and parts like plastic and rubber seals etc. The ethanol can eat away these parts over time, damaging your small engines.

Hard On Gas Tanks

It is apparently very hard on older fibreglass gas tanks, and even metal tanks, where it can cause tiny slivers of fibreglass or metal to break off and find it’s way into the inner workings of your boat motor.

So the long and short of it is, as far as outboard motors and other small gas engines are concerned, you want to buy hi-test or whatever your particular brand of high octane is called and make sure that it doesn’t contain ethanol if you are using it in your small engines including outboard motors.

I’m sure as time goes on, outboard motors manufacturers and other small engine makers will make the changes necessary to allow the use of ethanol mixed fuel in their engines, but for now, it sounds like high octane gas is the way to go, better safe than sorry.

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4 thoughts on “Outboard Motors Gas and Ethanol Alert”

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