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Ethanol and Fuel

 Ethanol and fuel - seasonal issues article

  Hello to everyone that is interested in learning more (and where to go) so as to better take care of their outboard (or other seasonal) engines while saving themselves money, time and unnecessary aggravation in the process. 

I have been asked to expand on a paragraph I wrote to Deb and her query regarding replacing or repairing an old problem boat motor.  As my wife and I recently had gone through this same process in 2013,  I added my 2 cent's to the discussion and have now added more information and links below, on what we have learned to make our investment (a then-new 2013 90 HP Evinrude E-TEC) last as long as possible.

  To start things off, here is a video of great interest for those of us who have had or are having outboard engine running problems (can also pertain to all engine type problems as well).  It provides an excellent overview of how water gets into our fuel, etc, and is a great starting point for the rest of the article below.
  In grey below is the original entry, only tidied up a bit.  I have then added informational links on Ethanol and its dangers, as well as how to better protect your motors from Ethanol/water damage.  Following that is the process I will be following to get our boat's fuel tank ready for this summer.  At the very end is a bonus informational section (with more excellent links) and it deals with the addition of a marine water filter to an outboard motor and boat as well as two more links dealing with Water Finding Paste and a short explanation on how I have used it.

  Here goes,  

  Hello Deb (this is Tomi's DH - Please note that I am not a specialist in this field but have had some training as a (now retired) military aircraft technician as well as in a previous secondary duty as a Fuel Services Officer. One of the responsibilities was training and caring for a RCAF helicopter squadron's fuel storage tanks for several years).

 Normally Premium-Grade fuel is the only Ethanol-Free fuel available to you and I at fuel stations. Personal experience has taught me that Shell stations as a general rule have the best quality fuel....exceptions are possible as this also depends on how old and well monitored/maintained a particular stations storage tanks are.  The busier a station is, the faster their fuel is turned over and the better the chance of buying good quality fuel.  Beware the fuel station selling off its last bit of fuel before closing down or having their storage tanks replaced.  There is usually a good reason they are being forced to perform this expensive replacement, and you don't want to buy what is lying at the bottom of their old tanks! bad stuff for seasonal engines period. Ethanol naturally attracts water, quickly drawing it out of the air as well as from the fuel itself. The emptier a fuel tank is, the more air (and condensation) is present due to changing temperatures. The quantity of this blend of ethanol and water separating from your fuel and pooling in your tank quickly builds up as seasonal engines are not run sufficiently to burn it off before becoming a hazard to your engine. Then one day you go out to run your boat or snow blower, and it sucks up a slug of water/ethanol and you potentially stop running...or worse, damage the engine.

  (personal anecdote)  I had been preaching this to the local lodge owner and friend as to the need to switch his boat motor fuel storage tank to Premium for years. He had been having problems with his motors and bought a simple water filter to pour his fuel through when he emptied his small boat motors.  they sit for extended periods of time not being used and was dismayed to find how much water was present even after one week. He now carries premium fuel in his storage tank for his boat motors and also for sale.

  Anyone that has been using normal grade fuel, please consider draining all the fuel out of your tank large or small, till completely empty. pick up a fuel filter at your local hardware store and filter out the water before putting it back in and using it - only do this if the fuel has not been sitting for an extended period and gone "bad"....give it a sniff and if it smells bad, it should not be used and disposed of.

  If at all possible switch to premium fuel and stabilize immediately.  If you can only purchase regular/ethanol fuel, stabilize immediately as well and try to talk to your local supplier as to the merits of Premium fuel. Fuel starts to break down and solids (gum and varnish) begin to form and coat your carb/fuel system and also rest on the bottom of your fuel tank in as little as a month.

  It is important to remember that Ethanol mixed fuels have an even shorter shelf life that non-ethanol mixed fuels.  I suggest that ALL fuel be treated immediately.

Information from much more knowledgeable sources than I

  Here are two handy links that though several years old, are still pertinent to the questions being raised about Ethanol being in most fuels and the negative effects on seasonal motors. I can't copy and paste the info into this forum due to copyright, but the articles are well written, accurate and to the point.  They cover not only the dangers of ethanol being hygroscopic (attracts and absorbs water from the air as well as from fuel), they also contain good info for everyone that have boat motors of all ages, fuel tanks made of fibreglass and the dangers inherent to fuel composition changes (to motors, fuel lines, seals, bonding agents in tanks, etc).  Copy the links into your browser and hit enter to learn more.
E-10 Dangers to Boat and Seasonal Motors

How to Protect Your Outboard Engine From Ethanol Damage

Our Own Planned Ounce Of Prevention....

  Here is a way of removing or checking for separated water/ethanol in your built-in boat fuel tank (or any other tank, for that matter if you don't have water finding paste available-more info on that later).  If you use portable fuel tanks it is the same process only much easier.

  The phase-separated Ethanol/water from fuel cannot be used/remixed and it does quickly build up in your tanks.  It must be safely removed (I will be doing this myself when I get home this summer, as we have again been away for over a year....we have only been at the lake 2 weeks a year for the each of the last two summers due to an overseas posting. So yes, this is something I have thought about a lot!)

1- Get a long, clear plastic tube/line.  Have a pump (I prefer a simple manually operated one), with a clamp or shut-off for it so you can control/stop the flow.  There are plenty of inexpensive options (at Canadian Tire for example) for safe fuel-approved fluid transfer.
2- Insert the tube through your boats fuel-filler cap.  Mine is at the back of our boat and is at the lowest point of our built-in fuel tank.
3- Try to get the end of the line into the lowest point of the tank.  Make sure the external end is long enough to extend below the bottom of the boat if a siphoning process is being used.  If you have a pump operated system where you can draw the liquid from the bottom of the tank, so much the better (and you potentially avoid the nasty taste).
4- Place a sufficiently large fuel container, or collection of containers (clear ones would be nice) in a suitable tray (to catch any spillage, and also have kitty litter handy to absorb any fuel spilt...lets not get any on the ground or in our water).
5- You are trying to remove any separated water/ethanol from your tank (or any other contaminants), so begin the siphon or transfer process ensuring to get all the fuel/waste fluid into the container without stirring up or mixing the fuel in the tank before trying to get it out.
6- You will be looking to see if there is any fluid coming out that isn't the same colour as the normal fuel in your tank, sludge or particles (all bad).  Keep siphoning until you see normal colour fuel in the clear line you are using, or appearing in the container.   If you can procure a filter to pass the fuel through as it comes out of the line, it would be ideal as you can actually see the water being separated.
7- If you have never treated your fuel for storage...and you should treat your fuel whenever more of it is added to your seasonal motor's tank...I would suggest disposing of the potentially bad fuel in its entirety rather than trying to burn it off and damage your motor.
8- Refill your tank with premium fuel and immediately treat (I recommend the minimum amount of stabilizer required to safely store the fuel for a year).  Continue treating fuel whenever more is added and if at all possible store your (treated fuel) tanks nearly full as well as don't run your tank below 1/4.  This will reduce the amount of condensation as well as the likelihood of sucking up contaminated fuel/ethanol/water/debris.

Special request regarding installing a marine water filter for an outboard
  I had an additional question posed to me as to my thoughts on installing a water separator for an outboard motor.  I think it is a great idea, and have been planning on doing it myself for our boat once we got home again.  This just prodded me a bit to share what I have found as good references.  Once again I will add links as I can't improve on them.  Keep in mind everyone has a different boat, motor and fuel line configuration so some adjustments must be allowed so as to match your individual needs.  If at all unsure, a reputable boat repair facility can take the guess work out of it for you.

  As stated in the links below, I would try make sure I had a marine water filter with a clear lower bowl as well as an easily operated drain built in so that I could simply and easily inspect and remove any water etc myself, wherever I and the boat may be.  I would also suggest that an extra replaceable filter element be carried as an emergency spare if so equipped...with the boat at all times.  If used it would then be replaced so as to always have a replacement handy.

  A quick check on E-Bay shows some marine filters systems available (from the USA) for as little as $29.95, so I look upon it as very cheap insurance for a very expensive motor.

  If you are in a location where premium fuel is not available, I would strongly recommend the installation of a marine water filter in your fuel line at your earliest convenience.  Before doing that I would also recommend that you check for any water being present, if not empty your tank(s) completely to ensure you are starting with a clean and dry system (if you have a lot of water in your fuel tank already, you would always be emptying the filter till all of it has been removed-just a thought).  The method I described above to check for water would work quite nicely, I would think.  

 Water Filter Link 1
 One persons personal experience and step by step installation, with photo's.  It is written by what I would consider to be an expert in the boating world who is a professional writer and editor (it says so, right at the end!).

Water Filter Link 2
  An excellent example for its generic installation instructions and pictures to illustrate what needs to be accomplished.

Water Finding Paste Link 1
  For anyone that knows me, I am known for going overboard (sorry for that!) when asked for I have added this bit as a bonus for anyone that has questions about a simpler way to find out if they have water in their tank and how much there is, no matter the size or quantity.  I have often used this type of product (when testing large aviation fuel storage tanks) and it really works.  You smear some of this paste on all side of a suitable stick (if you watched the very first video, you will know what I mean). You then follow the instructions and lower the stick-end with the paste into the tank till it touches bottom.  You then pull the stick out and if the paste has changed colours (ours was to a pinkish/red colour) then you had a clear indication of water at the bottom of the tank.  Simple, eh?  If you coated a foot on the end of the stick with paste and it shows 9 inches of colour change, you know how much water you have to deal with....a lot!

 This link shows a paste designed for regular fuel.

  Water finding paste link 2
Here is a link with the paste being used/demonstrated.

  So there we go, a bit longer than what I thought.  I hope this has helped,