Should You Choose a Flex-Fuel Vehicle?

Should You Choose a Flex-Fuel Vehicle?
  • Opening Intro -

    College students shopping for a decent used car will find a dizzying array of models to consider.

    What they will quickly realize is that there are really no bargains to be had, with most decent used cars costing at least $5,000.

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Among these models are flexible-fuel vehicles or FFVs, cars that can run on straight gasoline or an ethanol blend. Read on and we will help you answer the question whether you should choose an FFV.

Definition

We already established that an FFV can use two different fuels. What we will look at now is how this is possible.

Because E85 is more corrosive than gasoline, various parts in FFVs are upgraded to resist corrosion. Essentially, the fuel lines are replaced with a plastic-lined stainless steel version and the fuel tanks are constructed of stainless steel. These differences cost manufacturers about $150 per car, but those costs are typically not passed on to consumers.

Upkeep

Maintenance for FFVs is usually identical to engines powered by conventional gasoline. Alcohol, being caustic, can still wear out fuel lines and if this needs to be replaced, then your mechanic will need to outfit your car with a similar fuel line. Follow your manufacturer’s owners manual for your car’s upkeep.

Cost

When shopping for a used car, there should be no price difference between conventional and FFV models. As mentioned earlier, there is no cost difference to consumers when buying these cars, therefore a private seller or dealer should not expect you to pay more. Visit Kelley Blue Book at kbb.org for current pricing information.

Models

FFVs have been built since the 1980s, but are not always easily recognizable. You may be looking at a used car and not realize it is an FFV and the owner may not realize it either. More current models make identifying an FFV easier by using a yellow gas cap or by placing a placard on the fuel door. Some manufacturers put special badges on the vehicle’s body while all companies use special coding within their vehicle identification numbers to identify these cars.

Performance

Alcohol delivers a slightly improved punch for FFVs when fueled with E85, but buyers should note that fuel economy falls too. Testing by Consumer Reports reveals that fuel mileage falls by 27 percent when FFVs are powered by E85 instead of straight gasoline.

The Answer

Should you choose a flex-fuel vehicle? Given the facts presented here, the option of fueling with an ethanol blend may be appealing to you especially if you live in the upper midwest where E85 is widely available and prices are competitive. For everyone else, given the differences in fuel economy, you will most likely use straight gasoline anyway with E85 an option when you want to use it.

See Also — Top 5 Used Cars for College Students

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Categories: Campus Cars