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Why ethanol in Ohio sucks.



May 17, 2011 – Comments (19)

Ok, I've been researching why my Ford F150 seems to get about 25% mpg less when I run e10 vs conventional gasoline.

I buy my gas at a local privately owned full service station called Cal's Marathon specifically because the owner refuses to sell any ethanol blended gasoline in his pumps. The owner is about as honest as you can get these days and I use his mechanic shop whenever I need work done on my truck.

A couple of days ago when I'm getting gas, I see Cal (who's normally toiling away in the mechanic's shop) out by the pumps. I ask him why he doesn't sell ethanol and I thought I already knew the answer, but I was not expecting the answer that I got.

What Cal told me was that Ohio was one of only 3 or 4 States that doesn't test the octane content of it's gasoline. That's right my liberal friends, because of the lack of regulation compared to the rest of the country, our state is a dumping ground for poor quality gasoline. 

Early in the days before ethanol, Cal decided that he would test every delivery of gasoline that arrived at his station. He wanted to make sure his customers were getting a quality product.

Once ethanol came on the seen, Cal noticed that a lot of ethanol was especially poor on octane ratings. He decided to not sell any at his station. To be fair, I'm guessing that ethanol was being dumped in Ohio the same way that other gasoline was being dumped and there was probably a higher percentage of poor ethanol then. After all, the product was in it's infancy and production standards should have been optimized since then. 

Cal then told me that no matter how much production standards have improved, any exposure to moister in transportation or storage significantly reduces octane levels in ethanol. He said that moister causes the fuel to seperate which can make an 87 octane fuel burn at 84 octane. (unsafe for most engines) 

How many people want to bet on the storage tanks of gas stations that are unregulated being moister free?

Now all my liberal friends are jumping up and down right now because they know the conclusion that I'm coming to that the product should be regulated to solve the problem. They are having visions of huge amounts of money being spent on gasoline police to check every ounce of gas in the state of Ohio paid for by a huge tax on gasoline (which of course could never have an effect on Ohio's economy in their eyes).

Now I burst their bubble. To solve the problem all the state has to do is to encourage people to enforce their property rights. Make both the stations and the oil companies responsible for tort damages caused by selling a product that fails to meet advertised standards. Once a few station owners buy a few new engines for customers, they'll start checking their gas. All the customer needs is a few gas receipts and a warrant to collect gas for lab testing and it's pretty easy to prove.

Cal checks his own gas voluntarily. It's something that's easy to do and he has loyal customers because of it. If we go the tax and police route, we start the cycle of the police being bribed by the people that they are supposed to be regulating and then claiming that they need more funds to properly do their job. Gas taxes increase and the cycle starts over again. We see how this system works today with the banking industry.

Cal relied on a free market solution and in this case so did I. I buy my gas at Cal's because my truck runs better.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones. 


19 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On May 17, 2011 at 11:08 AM, lemoneater (57.31) wrote:

Good for Cal--a small business owner who puts the customer first. 

Thanks for the insight on ethanol. I don't completely understand the affinity that ethanol and other alcohols have to water but my husband explained that the amount of alcohol in a solution can be self limiting because alcohol draws water out of air. Strange! (When he was 11, my husband did a distillation science project for extra credit. There is nothing like hands on experience to add to knowledge.) 

It seems parodoxical to have a fuel that attracts water. If only engines could burn the excess water and turn that into energy. 

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#2) On May 17, 2011 at 11:12 AM, chk999 (99.96) wrote:

Corn ethanol is an insanely stupid idea. It is un-economic without subsidies and subsidies are usually a bad idea.

You also get worse mileage because ethanol already has an oxygen on it. So in some sense it is already partially burnt versus gasoline which is all hydrogen and carbon.  

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#3) On May 17, 2011 at 11:26 AM, ajm101 (< 20) wrote:

"Now all my liberal friends are jumping up and down right now ... Now I burst their bubble." == unnecessary Socratic dialog technique.  Put up your point and let real people debate :)

Cool post, cool service station.  You're lucky to have that guy.  I like how your solution is tort, though -- the same solution as applied to medicine is a big conservative bugaboo.

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#4) On May 17, 2011 at 12:37 PM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:

LOL despite the repeated examples above, I actually do know how to spell "moisture"

Man I wish we had spell check on this thing. 

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#5) On May 17, 2011 at 3:32 PM, smartmuffin (< 20) wrote:


I'm with you on the personal level.  Yourself and Cal have implemented a "free market solution" that works for the both of you.  But I'm not as confident as you are that this would be "easy to prove" in court and instantly lead to self-regulation.

Farmer Joe from Ohio is seriously going to take Chevron to court and win?  What are the odds of that exactly?  I hope Farmer Joe has detailed receipts and logs of all the maintenence he ever did on his truck, because all Chevron will have to do is say it's reasonably likely he caused his engine failure himself.  I hope the country lawyer he can hire on his meager income is prepared to go toe-to-toe with a legal team backed by billions of dollars in profit.

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#6) On May 17, 2011 at 4:46 PM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:

Farmer Joe can take is local gas station owner to court and win. 

Here are my gas reciepts...

Here are the lab tests...

The sign says 87 octane...

The lab test says 83 octane... 

The mechanic says my engine is shot...

The experts say that 84 octane damages engines...

Once the station owner pays for a few engines he'll test his own gas before he sells it. A few station owners may also decide to take on Chevron once it's been established in court that the octane level is too low.

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#7) On May 17, 2011 at 8:02 PM, Eudemonic (59.82) wrote:

This raises some good questions.

Is the octane rating advertised the octane of the gas before ethanol dilution?

To maintain an 87 octane rating with ethanol gas, must one have a higher octane rating before dilution? 



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#8) On May 17, 2011 at 9:52 PM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:

 On May 17, 2011 at 8:02 PM, Eudemonic (63.94) wrote:


This raises some good questions.

Is the octane rating advertised the octane of the gas before ethanol dilution?

To maintain an 87 octane rating with ethanol gas, must one have a higher octane rating before dilution? 

In my state no, because nobody checks, I'm not sure about other states. But I'm sure that the right campaign donation would insure that regulators would use octane rating before dilution and to take the producer's word for it. 

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#9) On May 17, 2011 at 10:59 PM, FleaBagger (27.49) wrote:

So is 84 the line? I bought 85 the whole time I was in Colorado, had no problems. Are other states just afraid to get that close to the line?

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#10) On May 18, 2011 at 9:26 AM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:

I just picked a number Fleabagger. What it really depends on is the compression ratio of your engine. Most engines are designed to run 87 octane. 

Too high an octane can damage your emmisions equipment as well.

If your engine is knocking, it may be because the octane is too low. 

Your car's owner's manual should list the minimum octane level. I wouldn't go below that and I would actual go a little above it if your state doesn't test octane levels. 

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#11) On May 18, 2011 at 10:55 AM, eldemonio (97.82) wrote:

The burden for testing should fall on the producer, not the consumer, nor the middleman. 

It's a huge waste of resources and money for gas station owners to test the gasoline they sell.  It's almost as stupid as expecting consumers to test the gasoline themselves before putting it in their tank. 

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#12) On May 18, 2011 at 12:03 PM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:

While I agree that the oil companies should be testing it, the kit to test costs like $30 and is reusable.

A smart station owner like Cal should be testing his gas anyway, because his reputation is on the line more than the oil company's. 

(I'm sure that the oil companies probably test every drop that goes out the door, but that doesn't mean that they won't dump low quality fuel on some poor sucker.)


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#13) On May 18, 2011 at 12:15 PM, eldemonio (97.82) wrote:


Would you also argue that toy stores should test the toys they sell for lead paint; grocery stores should test the food they sell to assure quality; and pharmacies should test the drugs they sell to assure safety?

If so...are you flocking crazy?

If not...why so inconsistent?


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#14) On May 18, 2011 at 12:26 PM, mtf00l (43.15) wrote:

Anyone familiar with this statement?

Combine this with all the "rule of law" posts lately and you'll deduce that no one is responsible or liable anymore.

Follow the dollars...

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#15) On May 18, 2011 at 12:46 PM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:


That is precisely why I prefer a free market solution over regulation. 

Should they be required to test anything? No. Let the merchant figure it out.

A test that is $15 for a toy that is $2 doesn't make any sense at all, but randomly testing 1 in say 50 might be cost effective.

At the same time, claiming ignorance when you know that your company is buying a toy in China and there is a good possibility of lead paint is not an excuse either.

The solution is to put a very real possibility of risk in front of the merchant that if his product causes damages, he'll have to pay for those damages. Then he can police his own product how he sees fit because he has his own ass on the line if he fails.


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#16) On May 18, 2011 at 12:50 PM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:


We need a little less of that and a little more of Caveat venditor. 

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#17) On May 18, 2011 at 2:53 PM, mtf00l (43.15) wrote:


I feel you, however; follow it back through the supply chain and define who is ultimately/lastly responsible.

Follow it forward and you'll see Caveat Emptor works in a free market.  Sadly, we no longer have this however even in our current system it's still a better approach.

Additionally, what legal recourse does a buyer have against a foreign seller or a TBTF seller?

We have been trained to take on faith that the products we import are quality products.  This is what makes the current system go.  Support vendors who like the vendor mentioned in this blog conducts his own QA of the product he sells.  Before you buy conduct your own due dilligence of the product. A micro free market at work.

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#18) On May 18, 2011 at 4:26 PM, ChrisGraley (28.63) wrote:

Unless the buyer is an importer, he is buying from a local merchant and that local merchant has a responsibilty to make sure what he's selling doesn't cause harm.

Let the merchant insure the foriegn risk or make his supplier post bond. It doesn't matter. 

 TBTF does not mean too big to be responsible. You can get a pretty good attorney if you have a legitimate suit against a company with deep pockets. 

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#19) On May 20, 2011 at 2:22 PM, L0RDZ (91.34) wrote:

Simple solution ?


move out of OHIO ?


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