E10 fuel: is the introduction of E10 fuel a threat to classic cars?

Is the introduction of E10 fuel a threat to classic cars?

Correction made 16th March: bioethanol does not itself absorb carbon dioxide; it is considered a carbon-neutral fuel because the plants used to produce it are believed to absorb more carbon dioxide than is generated in the production and combustion of the biofuel.  

In 2021 the government plans to introduce lower-carbon E10 fuel as standard at filling stations across the UK. The introduction of E10 fuel, which contains twice the current proportion of bioethanol in standard petrol, raises serious concerns for classic car owners, for whose vehicles the new blend of fuel is not suitable.

Why is E10 fuel not suitable for classic cars?

Due to its 90% unleaded and 10% bioethanol blend, E10 fuel has a higher water content than the current standard fuel E5, which makes older vehicles susceptible to the bioethanol’s corrosive properties. New cars sold in the UK since 2011 have had to be E10 compatible, but older cars, and some carburetted, turbocharged and performance vehicles are also advised against refuelling with E10.

According to the RAC, ‘owners of cars registered prior to 2002 are advised not to use E10 in their vehicle, as problems have been reported’. These problems include damage to seals, plastic and metals.

Why the change in fuel?

The bioethanol contained in E10 is a substance which is considered to be carbon-neutral. As the plants that will become the biofuel grow, they reportedly absorb more carbon dioxide than will be produced in fuel production and combustion[1].

The current E5 fuel contains only 5% bioethanol; it is estimated that the introduction of E10 will reduce carbon emissions in the UK by 750,000 tonnes per year – the equivalent to taking 350,000 cars off the road. E10 is already offered at fuel stations across Europe, and the UK government are pushing for it be offered as standard in order to support ongoing efforts toward reducing carbon emissions.

Should classic owners be worried?

On the face of it, this is yet another step (along with clean air zones and the planned 2035 ban on sale of petrol, diesel and hybrids) that appears to restrict the enjoyment and future of classic cars. Now that classics incur a charge in many city centres, and as future petrol and diesel-engined car sales put long-term parts supply at risk, a lack of fuel availability is seen as some to be almost the final nail in the coffin.

However –

  • The government have guaranteed supply of E5 fuel for older cars
  • It will be mandatory for E10 fuel to be labelled, helping drivers to avoid misfuelling

The current proposal is that E5 will be available as the “Super”, higher octane fuel option, meaning E10 will become the 95 octane “Premium” grade which for most drivers is still the default option. The “Super” grade tends to carry a higher cost, but of course, future fuel prices at the time of E10 introduction can’t be accurately forecast.

In our opinion, the introduction of E10 is not a major cause for concern for classic owners, provided the government makes good on its promise to maintain supply of E5 fuel. There may be a higher cost to fuelling your classic vehicle, but this remains to be seen. The crucial thing will be making the right choice at the petrol pump, to avoid damage to your classic car.

The Department for Transport has an open consultation on the switch of petrol grades from E5 to E10, and members of the public are invited to submit their views and questions until 19th April.

 References

[1] https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/emissions/what-is-e10-fuel-and-how-could-it-affect-you/

https://www.goodwood.com/grr/road/news/2020/3/will-my-car-run-on-e10-fuel-why-the-new-fuel-might-damage-your-car/

https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/industry/government-plans-e10-petrol-switch-2021

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