Within that past few years, E85 (a mix of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) has become more widely available throughout the United States. With this release and the introduction of many manufacturers’ vehicles featuring “FlexFuel” friendly engines, the use of E85 has been increasing ever since. The question that begs to be asked – “Is it really worth it?” I was on a mission to find out!

Ethanol has its camp of followers featuring everyone from environmentalists to road-warrior travelers and even just the normal consumer looking to save a few dollars on the cost of fuel. I read and had been given information about E85 that was conflicting and somewhat controversial. Those who are for E85 and its use will say that it is more environmentally-friendly and helps us to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. While this may be true, those who stand against ethanol and E85 defend their position by asserting that in order to keep up with the demand for fossil fuels, we would have to devote a huge amount of farmland, etc, to producing corn, the base crop for the production of ethanol. One distinct difference between E85 and gasoline is that E85 does not have as much energy per its weight as gasoline. This essentially means that it does not produce as much power as gasoline and therefore is not considered as efficient as gasoline.

On a recent trip from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Orlando, Florida, I made a stop at a rest area to refuel. The vehicle that I was in was a 2010 Ford Econoline E-350 15 passenger van. I know from previous trips with this vehicle year and model that unloaded it gets about 14-15 miles per gallon highway. This is, of course, with normal 87 octane gasoline. Luckily, this vehicle has an ‘average miles per gallon’ option which allowed me to check the fuel economy while using E85 fuel. After resetting the ‘miles per gallon’ and driving about 100 miles, the average miles per gallon was 12.4, reflecting a decrease in fuel economy with E85 over gasoline of about 15% (taking the average of 14-15 miles per gallon with gasoline and averaging 14.5 miles per gallon).

On that particular day, the cost of a gallon of 87 octane gasoline was $3.65. The same gallon of E85 cost $3.05, a difference of about 17%. I most places, I’ve noticed that there is about a 50 cents per gallon difference (on the Florida Turnpike, at least) between regular gasoline and E85. With a 2% difference in actual operating costs comparing the E85 and gasoline, the decision is up to you.

Whether you feel that it is more environmentally responsible to support E85/Ethanol based fuels, or whether you deem it more appropriate to stick with gasoline, the +/- 2% difference could be considered negligible to someone who doesn’t drive much. But, if you are driving on a road trip or have a long commute to work, that 2% difference at the end of the year may be the difference between being able to do something you really want to do and being able to afford it and not being able to! The average American spends about $2500 per year in fuel for their vehicles. 2% of $2500 equates to $50.

“So how does this affect my car rental?” you ask. As stated in the first paragraph, more and more vehicles manufactured are “FlexFuel” friendly. The purpose of this blog is to inform auto renters about what is going on in the industry – this is a fairly large trend with manufacturers that can directly affect the cost of your vacation or trip. Please give me your thoughts on the subject!