by Beata Mostafavi | The Flint Journal
Thursday July 31, 2008, 12:51 AM
FLINT, Michigan — Biofuels may be friendlier for the environmentally conscious future but what about for the cars of the old world?
“I wouldn’t want to put that stuff in my old cars right now because I just don’t know,” Hanson, of Flint Township, said of biofuels. “The fuel itself is fairly new and the modern cars are designed for that.
“No one knows exactly what it does for old cars.”
• Two-year study funded by specialty insurer Traverse City-based Hagerty Insurance Agency, the largest provider of insurance for collector vehicles.
• A $50,000 study for a team of Kettering University researchers to test ethanol’s effects on older automobiles (1972 and earlier) and their fuel systems.Â
• The company hopes to announce the results of the study by the end of 2008.
In what appears to be one of the earliest studies of its kind, a team of researchers at Kettering University will test the impact of ethanol-blended fuels on classic car parts.
Traverse City-based Hagerty Insurance Agency, which insures more than 600,000 collector cars nationwide, is sponsoring the $50,000 study. The company launched the research as ethanol grew in popularity as an additive to gasoline, with “E10” (90 percent gas and 10 percent ethanol) being used more in modern gasoline around the country.
“As far as I know, there has not been a study of this kind done in the past,” Hagerty CEO McKeel Hagerty said in an e-mail to The Journal. “It is our ultimate goal to determine whether E10 is potentially damaging to older vehicles, and to provide our clients with tips to effectively overcome any negative impacts ethanol could have.”
He said the biggest concerns are about the compatibility with certain types of gaskets, seals, and hoses as well as the fear of ethanol speeding up the corrosion process to fuel system parts and hardware.Â
He said the company has received minimal feedback from clients who have blamed ethanol for both minor and severe problems. Several collector car owners, he said, have reported problems with ethanol loosening “sludge” in their gas tanks, causing clogs in the fuel system.Â
The research should show which types of fuel lines, hoses and seals are best used with current fuels, he said.
“We hope to be able to provide conclusive evidence to the collector car hobby about the effects of ethanol on collector cars and tips of how to effectively adapt to modern gasoline with ethanol additives,” he said.
Concerns that have been raised about the impact of ethanol on classic car parts:
• The compatibility of ethanol with certain types of gaskets, seals, and hoses.
• The fear of ethanol speeding up the corrosion process to fuel system parts and hardware.
• How ethanol may loosen “sludge” in gas tanks, causing restricted flow or clogs in the fuel system.Â
• E10 (90 percent gas and 10 percent ethanol) may contribute to the drying and cracking of rubber seals and gaskets.Â
• The increased likelihood of vapor lock due to ethanol’s tendency to vaporize at lower temperatures than straight gasoline.Â
It’s a fairly new issue being discussed among old car enthusiasts and some are more concerned than others.
“From an old cars standpoint, the ethanol blends can be detrimental to the fuel pump and the carburetor,” said classic car collector Bob Sovis, of Tyrone Township.
“The older the vehicle the more detrimental it could be. I’ve been watching the hobby publications very closely and there hasn’t been a whole lot I’ve seen published about it at this point.”
But Sovis, who still isn’t convinced biofuels will be an environmental savior because of the drop in mileage that comes with their use, welcomes Kettering’s study.
“I think it’s excellent they’re doing that because we need to know,” he said.
Hagerty Insurance expects to announce the results of Kettering’s research by the end of the year.
Al Hatch, who has been involved with classic car collecting for more than 40 years and is chairman of the local Back to the Bricks cruise, is waiting to see what the research shows.
“The switchover to biofuels hasn’t impacted the car collecting hobby yet,” he said. “It’s going to generate a lot of buzz as biofuels become more prevalent.”
He recalled the older debate of whether unleaded fuel would negatively affect older engines and guesses that there will be solutions for any potential problems ethanol might bring for collector cars.
“The hobby is pretty dynamic and I’m sure if there is a major shift there will be some entrepreneur who will come up with something to adapt older cars to run on biofuels,” he said.