What Is E85? Benefits and Drawbacks of E85 Explained!

Editorial | News : February 25, 2022

E85 – Race fuel performance at gasoline prices!

Have you noticed the new pump handles at your local fuel station that say “E85” and wondered what they are all about?  What if we told you that this is the key to unlocking more horsepower from your engine while also helping it run more efficiently, and all for less than what you’re paying for premium gasoline?  E85 fuel provides these benefits and more which is why we call it the automotive “nectar of the Gods”, but there are a few things to consider before pulling the trigger on the yellow pump handle.  In this article we will take you through the good, the bad, and the beautiful of running this fuel in your vehicle, but if you simply want to see how you can add more power to your ride with E85 then our team is standing by on the phones to answer your questions today!


What is E85?

E85 is a fuel that consists of a mixture of ethanol and gasoline.  Ethanol is alcohol that is derived from plant matter such as corn or sugar cane, and when used as a fuel for automotive engines it can provide properties that allow for increased performance.  However, most vehicles cannot operate on ethanol alone as this fuel is very corrosive to fuel system components in its isolated form, as well as it requires much more energy to ignite making it difficult for engines to start on ethanol in cold temperatures.  To overcome these two issues traditional gasoline is blended with the ethanol.  This provides additional detergents to the fuel to protect against corrosion, as well as lowers the energy required to ignite the fuel so that vehicles can easily start in cold climates.  


Benefits of E85

To fully understand the benefits of E85 fuel you must first be aware of the actual ethanol content in the fuel you are filling with.  In the United States E85 fuel can range from an ethanol content of 50% to 85% with the remaining content of the fuel being traditional gasoline.   The actual mixture that you will receive from the pump will vary based on the region that the fuel is being sold in as well as the time of year as the ethanol content is reduced to help with those cold-start conditions that we mentioned earlier.  The main point here is that the performance benefits from E85 fuel will increase as the content of ethanol increases in your fuel.


Now that we understand ethanol content in E85 fuel we can look at what key factors actually allow engines using E85 to outperform those using traditional gasoline:


    1. Octane Rating – The first factor to consider is that E85 carries a higher-octane rating than standard gasoline. Depending on the final ethanol content of the E85 being used the octane rating can range from 100-105.  This is a significant increase from most premium gasoline in the United States which only carries a 91-93 octane rating.  By providing a higher-octane content the engine can safely run higher boost pressure and/or ignition timing with a lower risk of detonation.  Prior to E85 being readily available this level of octane was only found in very expensive and hard-to-source racing fuels, but now E85 provides this same level of performance and protection at your local pump and for a cost that is generally lower than premium gasoline.  
    2. Cooling Effect – E85 also provides a significant cooling effect that is not found in gasoline. This cooling effect will provide lower temperatures in the combustion chamber during the ignition process which allows for a safer environment in high-performance engines that run high boost pressures or ignition timing.  Also depending on the fuel system in your vehicle, some engines may experience a reduction in intake air temperatures that can lead to an increase in horsepower as well.  


Due to many variables in combinations it is impossible to put a general number on how much horsepower and torque will increase on E85 versus gasoline.  However, it is safe to say that any vehicle will show a performance increase by using E85 as long as E85-compatible components are installed and the vehicle’s ECU has been properly calibrated for E85 fuels.  These benefits coupled with the low cost of E85 make for a compelling argument to change your vehicle over to E85.


We ran tests between E85 and other fuels on our A90 Supra test vehicle to see how it stacked up. To see the results, watch the video below. 

Drawbacks of E85
While the additional performance at a low cost with E85 is significant, there are a few additional factors to consider before deciding that E85 should be the preferred fuel for your vehicle.


    1. Vehicle/Component Compatibility – The first item to consider when deciding to switch to E85 fuel is whether your vehicle is equipped to safely use E85. When comparing a vehicle on gasoline versus one on E85 with identical combinations, the E85 vehicle will demand 30-35% more from the vehicle’s fuel system than the gasoline vehicle.  Because of this, most vehicles will require some form of fuel injector and fuel pump(s) upgrade before it can support E85.  Also, many manufacturers did not provide ethanol-compatible fuel lines and components until the mid-2000’s, so it is best to discuss exactly what is needed to run E85 in your specific vehicle with your performance consultant prior to making the switch.
    2. Fuel Economy – E85 vaporizes at a rate of 30-35% on average faster than traditional gasoline. Because of this, vehicles that operate on E85 fuel will typically see a reduction in fuel economy by that same 30-35% rate compared to what the vehicle would experience on gasoline.  However, E85 is generally less expensive per gallon than premium gasoline so for most users this is not a significant concern.
    3. Availability – While the availability of E85 fuel has drastically increased in the past several decades there are still many areas that do not have reasonable access to E85 at a traditional fuel station. Due to being produced primarily from corn matter, E85 is prevalent across the mid-west as well as larger cities where fuel transportation is frequent.  However, regions that are more scarcely populated and located further from corn-producing areas may have more difficulty sourcing the fuel. 


Is E85 Right for You?

Now that we have explored some of the benefits and drawbacks of E85, it is time to decide whether E85 is the right fuel for your specific vehicle application.  After you’ve spoken with your performance consultant on what components will be needed to equip your car to be compatible with E85, the next step is determining the availability of E85 in your area as well as if you are comfortable with the reduction in fuel economy when using E85.


There are many resources to determine the availability of E85 and other ethanol-based fuels in your area.  Most notably is www.gasbuddy.com which provides you with an easy to use search engine that locates all of the available fuels in your area based on your location.  When conducting your search, you may find that E85 is not readily available in your area, however that should not put a stop to your consideration of E85 as many aftermarket fuel manufacturers such as VP Racing Fuels are now offering their own versions of ethanol-based fuels that can be ordered online and shipped directly to your house or local performance center.  If your vehicle is more of a weekend warrior this may prove to be a great solution to increase performance without worrying about where to fill up.


The reduction in fuel economy is also easily justified by the traditionally lower price per gallon of E85 when compared to premium gasoline.  While the reduction in fuel economy is real, the benefits of a higher performing and safer engine far outweigh the extra trips to the pump.


As you can see from this article there are many advantages to using E85 fuel in your vehicle and our team of performance specialists are happy to help in answering any additional questions that you may have about making the switch.  Every vehicle application and combination differs slightly, and National Speed is equipped with the tools and resources to help in guiding you on a path to increasing the performance in your vehicle without compromising safety or reliability.


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