The AAA says the Environmental Protection Agency and gasoline retailers should halt the sale of E15, a new ethanol blend that could damage millions of vehicles and void car warranties.
AAA, which issued its warning today, says just 12 million of more than 240 million cars, trucks and SUVs now in use have manufacturers' approval for E15. Flex-fuel vehicles, 2012 and newer General Motors vehicles, 2013 Fords and 2001 and later model Porsches are the exceptions, according to AAA, the nation's largest motorist group, with 53.5 million members.
AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet tells USA TODAY that he believes unfamiliarity with E15 among Americans provides a strong possibility that many may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle."
BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and VW said their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15. Ford, Honda, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo said E15 use will void warranties, says Darbelnet, citing potential corrosive damage to fuel lines, gaskets and other engine components.
Gasoline blended with 10% ethanol has become standard at most of the nation's 160,000 gas stations, spurred by federal laws and standards designed to use more renewable energy sources and lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Pushed by ethanol producers, the EPA approved the use of E15 -- a 15% ethanol-gasoline blend -- in June over objections from automakers and the oil industry. It's been available at a handful of outlets in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska since July.
EPA stickers affixed to gas station pumps say E15 is safe for use in virtually all vehicles 2001 and newer. (USA TODAY made repeated requests for EPA comment.)
But AAA -- in an unusual warning for a travel organization -- says the sale and use of E15 should be stopped until there is more-extensive testing, better pump labels to safeguard consumers and more consumer education about potential hazards.
Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, says E15 is safe for virtually all post-2001 vehicles, based on extensive government-sponsored testing.
But the American Petroleum Institute says a three-year study by automakers and the oil industry found that E15 is a consumer safety issue for a majority of drivers with pre-2012 vehicles.
The National Association of Convenience Stores says it's also worried about the effect of E15 on station pumps and fuel lines.
Scott Zaremba, who has been selling E15 blends at several of his eight Zarco 66 stations in Kansas since July, says no customers have complained. He's fueling his 2001 Chevy pickup with the E15 blend.