Note from JWR

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We woke up to a foot of fresh snow this morning.  It is nice knowing that we have a well-stocked house and a couple of fully snow-capable four wheel drive rigs. Our kids had great fun sledding. But I'm not looking forward to the toboggan run down the mountain tomorrow morning.  I commute to a "real job" as a technical writer five days a week.


How to Find Ethanol Compatible Vehicles (SAs: Alternate Fuels Ethanol, Survival Vehicles, 4WDs, SUVs, E85)

I recently had a SurvivalBlog reader contact me, bemoaning the fact that he was unable to find a 4WD pickup or SUV that could run on an E85 ethanol blend at any of the car dealerships in his area. He told me: "I've called them all and had no luck. They say that those are really rare."  He offered to pay me a consulting fee to help find him one. I told him that consulting wasn't necessary. I just referred him back to the ethanol articles in the SurvivalBlog Archives, and I mentioned that he should do a search at, (, click on the "Alternative fuel" check box in their Used Cars search window, and select a 200 miles radius for the search. The reader e-mailed me again just an hour later to thank me and to report: "Success!'. There were lots of listings, mostly in the nearby metropolitan region. He said that he planned to buy a flexible fuel 2003 Ford Explorer with a tow package. "And it's even olive drab!"

To reiterate from some of my previous posts on the subject, here is a little background information on finding a comparable vehicle: The only vehicles that seem to do very well running the E85 ethanol blend are those that have been specifically designed for it. This is because they include an electronic sensor to detect the relative flash point of the fuel.  This adjusts the fuel/air mixture "on the fly"--even if you pump a tank full of regular unleaded gasoline, or all E85, or anything in between. (Most likely this will be dictated by what is less expensive on any given day.)

Your average car salesman is not well educated about ethanol-compatible vehicles. So if you ask about them the right question in the wrong way, you are likely to get a negative answer or dumb looks. If you ask about a "E85-compatible", or "ethanol-compatible", or "alternative fuel", they might be stumped. You should ask if they have any "flexible fuel" vehicles in their inventory. (A few years back, the different American car makers use a variety of terminology, but more recently that have reached a general consensus to call them "flexible fuel vehicles" or FFVs.)

I'm confident that E85 compatible rigs will become more commonplace in the next few years, once Detroit's engineers get some common sense in Post-Katrina/Post-fuel price shock America. For survival use, the ones that look the most promising to me are:

  • 2005-2006 GMC/Chevrolet Suburbans, Tahoes, Yukons, and 2500HD Pickups with 5.3 liter Vortec engines.
  • 2003 and 2004 Ford Explorers with 4.0 liter engines.
  • 1998-2003 Dodge Caravans with 3.3 liter engines. (Yes, I know that they have marginal ground clearance and towing capacity, but they do make a 4WD version, they are reasonably priced. More importantly, Caravans get 21+ MPG, which is important these days.)

Not all of the above mentioned models are FFV. You must look closely at the vehicle specifications of a prospective purchase before you buy. (A buyer's guide in PDF is available for download from the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.) In many cases it is just selected "fleet purchase" vehicles that can run on E85, so you have to look at specifications right down to a particular digit in the VIN number to be sure. As a visual indicator when you visit dealer lots: Some vehicles have a special sticker inside the gas cap door, indicating that they are E85 compatible.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on December 19, 2005 6:10 PM.

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