E10 petrol to be UK standard by 2021, but won’t work in older cars

Government consultation has launched on making E10 petrol with 10% ethanol the default unleaded grade

British petrol stations are set for a massive shake-up next year, after the government announced plans to make E10 petrol – which contains up to 10 per cent ethanol – the standard grade of unleaded in 2021. That’s despite the fact hundreds of thousands of older cars can’t run on the fuel, which could pose a potential fire risk for incompatible vehicles.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation into making E10 the new standard, and wants E5 (the current standard, with up to five per cent ethanol) to be available only as super-unleaded. The switch is projected to bring about CO2 reductions equivalent to taking 350,000 cars off the road, since E10 cuts emissions by two per cent compared with E5.

Classic car groups have branded the consultation “a concern” for owners of older vehicles because of the damage such fuel can cause. The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) says E10 “may cause some flexible fuel hoses, seals, gaskets, plastics and certain metals critical to the fuel system to corrode or degrade. This may cause damage to fuel pumps, carburettors, seals on injectors, pressure regulators and fuel tanks that are not resistant to ethanol. The bioethanol may also dislodge particles on older fuel systems, causing blockages.”

Petrol cars made since 2011 must be E10-compatible, but the DfT estimates 700,000 vehicles are not. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) says, for example, that all BMWs can use E10, but warns this is not the case for every marque. Almost all Mercedes models can use E10, but the C200 CGI and CLK 200 CGI made from 2002 to 2005 cannot.

E10 petrol has been used on the Continent for some years, most notably in France and Belgium, where it is sold alongside E5. But while it is not currently offered in the UK, there is no legal reason why it could not be. Assuming the plan is put into practice, owners of incompatible cars would still be able to fuel their cars – but they would have to use super-unleaded. The FBHVC is seeking reassurance from the DfT that this would not see owners “financially penalised at the pump”, because super-unleaded is far dearer than regular petrol.

The consequences of running an incompatible car on E10 can be severe, as James Elliott, editor-in-chief of Auto Express’s sister title, Octane, explained: “These fuels make short work of rubber and fuel lines in older cars. In fact, it has happened on one of my own classics when a section of fuel line perished prematurely and started spewing petrol everywhere. I was lucky that it was spotted and could be made safe on the spot, but I am concerned that not everyone will be so lucky. Any fuel damaging seals and lines that prevent fuel from reaching the hottest parts of the engine is a serious fire risk, and a potential danger to classic cars and their owners.”

Which cars can’t run on E10 petrol?

Previous research by the RAC Foundation indicated 28,000 Volkswagen Golfs, 18,162 Mazda MX-5s and almost 16,000 Nissan Micras in the UK are unable to run on E10.

A spokesperson from UKPIA (UK Petroleum Industry Association), which represents major fuel suppliers in the UK, advised: “If an owner of a classic or cherished car is uncertain of their vehicle’s compatibility with petrol containing more than 5 per cent ethanol and is unable to obtain guidance from the vehicle manufacturer, they can avoid potential difficulties by using the super grade.”

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is a form of alcohol, and the ethanol in E5 and E10 petrol is bioethanol, meaning it is a renewable fuel derived from growing and fermenting crops such as sugar, wheat and maize.

Increasing the ethanol content in petrol brings a reduction in carbon dioxide because ethanol produces less CO2 than petrol when burnt, and because the crops grown to produce it absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Find out which cars can't use E10 petrol here....

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