Tuesday, September 4, 2012
We just received the following email from John K, reprinted with permission:
I thought about this a lot, and realized I will never be in a position financially to buy a new vehicle to enjoy flex fuel, but I found out there are flex fuel conversion kits.
Forgive me if I got these links from you. Once I started searching, I learned so much from so many sources, that I have forgotten whether you provided the initial idea, or if I found out about kits elsewhere.
This technology is all so new that there is a lack of reviews from the mainstream sources we normally trust for our auto technology news, but White Lightening seems to be the main kit out there with the best reputation and lowest price. It also seems the developer is well-connected with the real world in Brazil's flex fuel auto program.
Of course, I also noted with interest your post yesterday about regular non-flex fuel cars sometimes also getting better fuel economy. The main reason I've always been told that I cannot use ethanol in my car is because fuel system plastics and rubbers have to be chosen for alcohol resistance and because the oxygen content of alcohol puts it beyond the ability of fuel injection computers to compensate, and if you have a carburetor, there's nothing at all you can do unless you rejet to run exclusively on ethanol, though I did find your video link to Henry Ford's flex fuel Model T very interesting with its manually-controlled and adjustable variable mixture carburetor jet and manually-controlled distributor advance.
White Lightening solves the mixture issue by adding an auxiliary circuit board that increases the fuel injector pulse so it stays open longer. Then the car's onboard computer is able to reduce the flow when regular gasoline is used. They say this only works on modern cars with an OBD II compliant ECU computer. Their website says that they encourage questions, so I wrote them a letter to ask about their experience with rubbers and plastics, and also whether the car's OBD II ECU is capable of advancing the timing, or whether we are essentially running alcohol on a gasoline ignition advance curve. After seeing their website encourage questions, I was very disappointed to receive no response.
But the issue of rubbers and plastics, and potential engine damage by ethanol in non-flex fuel cars is thoroughly addressed in this web page at Ohio Bio Systems.
The second frame has a video showing a tear-down of a non-flex fuel Chevy Tahoe owned by an ethanol industry executive who ran it on E85 for over 100,000 miles. The video interviews the technician who did the tear-down and discusses the various components of the engine and fuel system as the camera shows them. No ethanol related damage was found, and the plastic parts actually looked better than the the ones in gasoline cars. The additional frames analyzes and compares the part numbers in flex fuel vehicles and their corresponding non-flex fuel versions and finds that in some cases 100% of the part numbers are the same, and at most in other cases only 3 or 4% of the part numbers are different. And even in these cases, in some years and models, the part numbers are the same, but then different in a different year.
So I might try asking a White Lightening vendor the same questions the manufacturer would not answer for me. E85 is still 400 miles away for me, but E20 has just arrived in town, so I might take a chance and see if my car will tolerate it. I hope it doesn't cost me in damage and repairs to my plastic and rubber components. My 1998 Hyundai Accent owners manual says my car can use gasohol, but I'm sure that's only talking about the lower ethanol content gasohol 91 and 95 octanes that were available at that time. Plus I'm a little worried that plastic and rubber in an older car like mine might be more prone to breakdown than in a newer car.
All for now,
Editor's note: If you have any experience with converting a car to a flex fuel vehicle or in using ethanol in a non-flex fuel car, please leave a comment or email us. We'd love to hear about it.
Editor's update: There have been further developments. Read about them here: Experimenting With Alcohol.