On a test ride in a Toyota Camry hybrid a few weeks ago I asked the salesman when the diesel-hybrid is coming. "Haven't heard about that one yet" he said, "but I can tell you for sure that Toyota says that they are not a fan of ethanol — bad for the engines." Alas it seems the etha-hype has continued and now engines are literally being destroyed by people who do not have the right equipment and are not made sufficiently aware of the risks:
Complaints are coming in from disgruntled captains from East Coast harbours to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean – that boats are mysteriously puttering to a standstill and the suspected cause in each case is ethanol.
"The engine damage appears to be a tar-like substance – possibly from the chemical reaction between the resin and ethanol – causing hard black deposits that damage intake valves and pushrods, destroying the engine," Boat US wrote. For some owners this may mean their engines are wrecked. Others are looking for ways to cut out their fibreglass tanks and replace them with aluminium ones.
One man who knows all about the ethanol blight is Ale Tolentino, who captains a Dolphin tour boat in Hawaii. "It just melted things that was in the tank that's been in the boat since it's been built, sent it right through the fuel lines and the fuel lines were melting – and sending stuff in liquid form right through the engine and into the injectors," he said. "It came down to the ethanol doing the damage, it just killed us."
Another problem is that ethanol attracts water. In a car, where the tank and fuel lines are sealed, water is not an issue, but that is hardly the case when you are water-born, particularly if your boat sits for weeks at a time not being used.
Ooops. Dont' get me wrong, ethanol is great stuff provided it is used to make biodiesel or used in engines specifically made to overcome its lack of power and efficiency (e.g. don't be surprised when a Chevy Tahoe running on ethanol gets less than 10 mpg). But you will never hear these sorts of complaints from boat owners with diesel engines who run biodiesel or even convert to pure vegetable oil. The very worst that can happen with diesel is the hoses or seals might go bad, or a change in viscosity of the fuel might make it harder to turn the engine over. Small potatoes compared to killing the engine, especially when you are miles from shore.