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Automotive Articles >> Technology

Ethanol Vehicles What Types of Vehicles Use Ethanol?

All gasoline vehicles are capable of operating on gasoline/ethanol blends with up to 10% ethanol. In fact, some states require the seasonal or year-round use of up to 10% ethanol as an oxygenate additive to gasoline to mitigate ozone formation. These low percentage oxygenate blends are not classified as alternative fuels. We speak of ethanol vehicles as those specifically manufactured to be capable of running on up to 85% denatured ethanol, 15% gasoline (E85), or any mixture of the two up to the 85% ethanol limit.

E85 may be seasonally adjusted in colder climates such that the real proportion of E85 is less than 85% ethanol. Vehicles manufactured for E85 use are commonly called flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). For more information on lower percentage ethanol blends, please see our site on fuel blends. For more information on alternative fuel vehicles capable of fueling with higher percentages of ethanol, read on.

Light-duty FFVs include a wide range of vehicles, from compacts to sport utility vehicles to pickup trucks. Unlike bi-fuel natural gas and propane vehicles that have two unique fueling systems, FFVs have only one fueling system. To qualify as an alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) for tax credits, incentives to meet requirements for mandated fleets (federal, state, and fuel provider fleets) under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct), a vehicle must be capable of using fuel blends up to 85% ethanol.

Vehicle Availability

FFVs are widely available. As of 2005, the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition estimated that approximately 5 million FFVs have already been sold in the United States, although many buyers remain unaware that they may fuel with E85. Check your owner's manual, visit with your dealer, or see our list of current model year FFVs to determine if you drive a vehicle that can fuel with E85.

Fuel Availability

E85 fueling stations are located primarily in the Midwest; more than 150 public E85 stations are available across the United States. The actual fueling process is the same as fueling with gasoline or diesel. Visit our station locator to find the stations in your area.

Vehicle Experience

FFVs have recently become widely used by consumers, but they have operated in private and government fleets for years. Take a look at our Clean Cities fleet success stories for details.

Vehicle and Fuel Costs

E85 is usually sold at prices comparable to regular grade gasoline, although prices vary regionally. For more information on fuel prices, download the Alternative Fuel Price Report.

With the mass production of some E85 compatible vehicles, original equipment manufacturers usually offer these vehicles at the same prices as comparable gasoline vehicles. In some cases, E85 compatibility is offered as a vehicle option at a slight cost increase to the consumer.

Maintenance Considerations

Use of special lubricants may be required for FFVs. Check the owner's manual or consult with the manufacturer to ensure that the correct engine oil is used. Use E85 replacement parts (identify E85 as the fuel when ordering). Maintenance assistance is available from local dealers; practices are very similar, if not identical, to those for conventionally fueled vehicles.


Compared with gasoline-fueled vehicles, most ethanol-fueled vehicles produce lower carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions and the same or lower levels of hydrocarbon and non-methane hydrocarbon emissions. Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions are about the same for ethanol and gasoline vehicles. E85 has fewer highly volatile components than gasoline and so has fewer evaporative emissions.

Ethanol is domestically produced, so its use helps reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil and can help boost the agricultural sector's economy. In addition, it's a renewable fuel made from domestically grown crops like corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, barley, and wheat. Currently, increased R&D efforts are being conducted on the use of cellulosic biomass, such as corn stover, switchgrass, and other bio-feedstocks for the production of ethanol.

General Motors has a fun "Cornulator" on its Live Green, Go Yellow Web site. Use it to estimate barrels of oil saved by fueling with E85.


Ethanol is a high-octane fuel and has 80% or more of the energy content of gasoline. Some auto manufacturers are installing larger fuel tanks, so the range of FFVs is similar to gasoline vehicles. Power, acceleration, payload, and cruise speed of vehicles operating with E85 are comparable to those operating with equivalent conventional fuels.
U.S. Dept. of Energy

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