After the conversations we had here recently about old tractors, I began to hear about a problem that really does affect their longevity. Ethanol in gasoline is not the wonder fuel it has been made out to be. It is causing problems when used in off-road vehicles— lawn motors, chain saws, boat motors, four wheelers, not to mention old tractors. Although I have had no cause to complain yet myself, I first heard rumors of these problems when 10 percent ethanol was added to gasoline (E-10 fuel. Now that the EPA has approved 15 percent ethanol in gasoline (E-15 fuel) the complaints are increasing. Ethanol corrodes plastic and rubber and even some metal not made to handle it. It also absorbs water into the fuel. You don’t want to leave a can of gas set around very long unused if it has ethanol in it. And recently out of California came reports that E-15 gas pollutes the air more than pure gasoline (can you call gasoline “pure”?) — contrary to all the propaganda the champions of ethanol have been putting out for several years.

I called a local small engine repair shop whose proprietors I know and trust and asked them if the problem is serious. The mechanic’s first reply was a long drawn out groan. “Oh yes, unfortunately,” he finally replied. “Our carburetor repair work has at least doubled lately.”

What can you do about it since there are now reports that E-10 gas is causing problems too? He sighed again. “Well, you just have to get your carburetor worked on more often. There are additives now to put in ethanol gas, but I am not yet sure if they are all that effective. And they are expensive. It looks like manufacturers will have to design and develop new carburetors for their motors. Right now, it you look at the warranty on your new lawnmower or chain saw, you will see that the carburetor and attendant parts are not covered. Manufacturers are washing their hands of the whole problem.”

The government requires service stations that sell E-15 gas to have labels on the pumps which say: “Use only on 2001 and newer passenger vehicles and in flex-fuel vehicles.” The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers think the warning labels ought also to include specific instructions directing consumers to check their owner’s manual to determine the appropriate fuel for their vehicles but so far the EPA evidently does not think that’s necessary. But that complaint might be beside the point because some mechanics say that E-10 shortens the life of small engines too.

Obviously, owners of old tractors are going to be hard hit by this situation because no one is going to start making ethanol-proof carburetors for them, I don’t think. You are going to be forced to buy a new tractor whether you can afford to or not. Or better yet, move forward to draft animal power.

This situation seems to me unconscionable. If you look at only the ethanol news from the corn industry or ethanol manufacturers, you would never know there is this problem because most of these sources simply ignore it. Ethanol from corn is, furthermore, so expensive that it requires huge subsidies from the government before it can be “profitable.” (I think they are going to lose some of the subsidies soon.) Taxpayers must not only pay for it but now must pay the extra costs of keeping their small engines running. We have been sold on green energy, but ethanol from corn is not green. It is red — red with anger and indebtedness. It is also driving up the cost of food.

Do any of you readers know other ways around the problem? And how can you be sure the gas you buy is free of E-15. According to information on Google, not all gas pumps are properly labeled. Or customers, used to just grabbing the hose and filling the tank or gas can, aren’t aware that they should look for it. The EPA, for political reasons, has not been all that energetic in publicizing the down side of this red alternative fuel.