Is cheap gas like E15 and Unleaded 88 a safe bargain for your car? Here's what we know
Following Sheetz's announcement that it has lowered some gasoline prices through July 4, some drivers cheered about saving money while others warned that not all vehicles can use it.
The convenience store chain is charging $3.99 a gallon for Unleaded 88 and $3.49 a gallon for E85, the company said earlier this week.
While gas prices have been dropping in recent weeks, the special offered by Sheetz is a bargain. The average price of a regular gallon of gas in Pennsylvania is $4.94, according to the American Automobile Association.
Nearly all of the gasoline sold in the United States contains about 10 percent ethanol, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Sheetz's sale, though, isn't on regular gasoline. It's offered on fuel that contains more ethanol, which is made from corn.
So are these bargain fuels safe to use?
Daniel Ciolkosz, associate research professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Penn State University, answered that question and others.
What is Unleaded 88 gas?
"Unleaded 88 is a fuel blend that includes 15% ethanol," Ciolkosz said in an email. "It has an octane rating of 88, which is why it’s called 'Unleaded 88.'"
What is E85 fuel?
E85 is a blend that includes 51% to 83% ethanol, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.
Are these fuels safe to use?
"Check your owner’s manual or manufacturer website to be sure. All cars manufactured in 2001 or newer are approved to use Unleaded 88," Ciolkosz said.
"E85 should only be used in cars that are 'flex fuel' vehicles," he wrote. "Those approvals are based on years of extensive testing for engine safety and vehicle performance (including air quality emissions)."
Flex fuel vehicles are designed to run on gasoline and any blend of gas that contains up to 83% of ethanol, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.
Do many drivers fill up with the cheaper gasoline?
"While 'regular' gas remains the most popular type of gasoline, there are indications that Unleaded 88 is growing in popularity, in part due to its lower price when compared to regular gas," Ciolkosz said.
Does gasoline with higher levels of ethanol reduce gas mileage?
"Results do vary, but in general a small reduction in mileage might be seen depending on the operation and design of the vehicle," Ciolkosz said. "One way to find out for yourself is to track your mileage on a tank of regular, then try the same on a tank of higher ethanol blend."
Can vehicles be harmed by cheaper gas?
"One of the biggest concerns is whether an ethanol blend will harm the car. While owners of antique or vintage vehicles may want to be cautious, ethanol blends don’t appear to cause problems with 'typical' automobiles that most people use nowadays," Ciolkosz said.
Can I use the cheaper gas in my boat?
No. Any gasoline that has 15% ethanol is harmful and prohibited for use in boats, said Scott Croft of the Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), which is based in Springfield, Virginia.
The association issued a news release with a warning earlier this year after the Biden administration announced that it would allow E15 gasoline to be sold this summer to reduce the pain at the pump.
Using E15 fuel in boats voids the engine warranty and has been proven to cause damage, the release states.
Are gas price wars coming?
So far, Sheetz is the only one to announce the limited-time price drop.
Rutter's, which has stores in several states, does sell E15, which contains 15 percent ethanol, at a lower price. It was selling for $3.99 per gallon at the Hellam Township store on Wednesday. A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Wawa offers Unleaded 88/E15 and E85 in a few of its stores in the region, said Lori Bruce, a spokesperson for the convenience store chain. Some states, such as Delaware and New Jersey, where the company operates, do not allow the sale of E15.
"Across all Wawa stores, we have been doing everything in our power to keep prices as low as possible at the pump," Bruce wrote in an email. "This includes absorbing cost increases when we can and leveraging our supply infrastructure to the best of our ability."