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Snow Throwers Suffer from Ethanol Problems


Warren, OH -- (SBWIRE) -- 01/22/2014 -- Snow throwers aren’t like lawn mowers. They aren’t likely to get used as much, and the interval between regular maintenance and servicing is usually longer. They sit. They wait. And then, without explanation, when needed most, they won’t start.

Experienced technicians know that any number of issues can prevent a snow thrower from starting, but many issues these days are due to bad fuel caused by ethanol, an additive currently found in nearly all gasoline, and thereby in all gasoline engines. Ethanol offers advantages for cars, since most cars and trucks are optimized to tolerate ethanol fuel, but small carbureted engines used on power equipment won’t tolerate it well.

The problem is this: Ethanol can damage the fuel delivery system (i.e carburetor, fuel lines, primer lines) in small engines through a process referred to as “phase separation.” The Fuel School blog describes phase separation as:

“…what happens to gasoline containing Ethanol when water is present. When gasoline containing even small amounts of Ethanol comes in contact with water, either liquid or in the form of humidity, the Ethanol will pick up and absorb some or all of that water. When it reaches a saturation point the Ethanol and water will Phase Separate, actually coming out of solution and forming two or three distinct layers in the tank.”

Water then corrodes the components found in carburetors, or if drawn into the engine directly, causes sudden damage by way of temperature shock. As a solvent, Ethanol will degrade rubber and plastic pieces like fuel lines and diaphragms.

To make matters worse, phase separation is exacerbated by low air temperature, making equipment particularly vulnerable during the winter months.

The good news is that preventive measures are available. Various brands of products such as Ethanol Shield and Sta-Bil have been designed to stabilize gasoline and mitigate the effects of Ethanol and phase separation. Alongside regular maintenance, owners and users are urged to treat all gasoline used in power equipment at the time they purchase fuel. It is also recommended to use stabilizers year-round, not just before storing the equipment. The amount of fluid used to treat gasoline will vary by brand, but some brands use as little as a teaspoon for every gallon treated.

Ethanol treatments and stabilizers don’t last forever, however. Gasoline stored for more than 3-4 months in either a gas can or fuel tank, should be removed then properly and safely discarded, regardless of whether or not it has been pre-treated.

Ethanol free gasoline is also available, although it is expensive and harder to find than additives and regular gasoline. These fuels are usually high octane and will improve performance, reliability and efficiency. Varieties sold in sealed containers can sit unopened on the shelf until it comes time to throw snow, trim weeds or mow lawns. Some are even pre-mixed with 2-cycle oil.

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