Can you put E85 in any car? How to check as gas prices rise


E85 fuel is less expensive than gasoline — but there are some catches. This photo was taken in New York in 2007.


As prices at the pump hit record highs, some drivers might be wondering about cheaper ways to fill their cars.

One of those options is E85 fuel, which is almost 70 cents less expensive per gallon when compared to gasoline.

“We didn’t use it for the longest time but once things really started skyrocketing, it’s a no-brainer,” car owner Derek Elliott told KMBC.

But as fuel prices continue to rise, can you put E85 in your car, too? Here’s how to check — and some factors you might want to consider.

Which cars use E85?

E85, also known as flex fuel, is a substance that contains gasoline. It also consists of up to about 85% ethanol, which is made from plant materials such as corn.

“Ethanol can be extremely helpful in cutting down on emissions but a car’s fuel delivery system and engine need to be designed to use it,” AAA said in May in an online post.

E85 should only be put in certain cars, experts warn. Those cars, called flex fuel vehicles, have the ability to run on a combination of E85 and gasoline.

To check if your car is a flex fuel vehicle, the U.S. Department of Energy suggests looking for a few signs:

  • Yellow-colored gas cap or a flex fuel label near where you pump gas
  • Markers on the outside of the car with the labels: E85, FFV or Flex Fuel
  • Reference to E85 in the owner’s manual

If you don’t have a flex fuel vehicle, putting E85 in it isn’t recommended.

“Using high-content ethanol (E85) in an engine not designed for it can also void the manufacturer’s warranty,” AAA wrote in 2019.

How much does E85 cost?

As of June 10, the national average for E85 fuel was $4.316 per gallon, data shows.

That’s 67 cents lower than regular gasoline, which was a record high of $4.986 per gallon, according to AAA. Some flex fuel vehicle owners told news outlets they were grateful to have a more-affordable option when they fill up.

“You don’t feel as stressed when gas prices rise like they are now,” flex fuel vehicle owner Greg Donahoe told WXYZ in Michigan.

Prices at the pump have been rising since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, leading to sanctions from several countries. When the cost for gasoline jumps, the federal government said there can be interest in E85 and other alternatives.

“As gasoline prices increase, alternative fuels appeal more to vehicle fleet managers and consumers,” the U.S. Department of Energy said on its website. “Like gasoline, alternative fuel prices can fluctuate based on location, time of year, and political climate.”

But there are some caveats when it comes to using E85. In addition to needing to go into a flex fuel vehicle, E85 might not be available everywhere. Also, experts say using the ethanol mixes usually results in lower fuel economy.

“FFVs experience no loss in performance when operating on E85, and some generate more torque and horsepower than when operating on gasoline,” the energy department said. “However, since ethanol contains less energy per volume than gasoline, FFVs typically get about 15%-27% fewer miles per gallon when (fueled) with E85.”

Patrick De Haan, petroleum analysis head at GasBuddy, said drivers might want to do the math to see if the savings at the pump are worth it, according to WXYZ.

Simone Jasper is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer and real-time news in the Carolinas.

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