Car Guy

Avoiding the Corn Con

It is once again legal to purchase real gasoline! But is it cost-effective?

By 11.16.11

Send to Kindle

It all started back in the '80s.

If you're of a certain vintage, you may remember. In winter, they began to "oxygenate" -- that is, adulterate -- gasoline with additives such as MTBE and ethanol, corn alcohol, in order (so they said) to lower tailpipe exhaust emissions. That excuse went away because older cars without computers could not adjust their air-fuel mixtures and so ran lean (and allegedly produced lower emissions when burning Not Quite Gas). So there arose a new excuse: "renewable energy." Suddenly it was patriotic to burn corn instead of eating it -- even if it took more energy to convert corn into alcohol and even if your car didn't go as far on a tank anymore -- because alcohol-laced fuel is less energy-dense than straight 100 proof gasoline.

The corn lobby (that is, the agro-business lobby) is quite powerful, firmly grasping Uncle Sam by the pockets, always applying just enough pressure to make sure he does what is required. The corn lobby wants for every American driver -- hell, everyone who buys "gas" (in quotes in the interests of accuracy, since what we are putting in our tanks is no longer, properly speaking, gasoline) -- to pay tribute each time he fills up. The total sum is incomprehensibly large but the average person sees the tab every time he's at the pump.

And every time he drives.

The "gas" we put into our tanks now usually contains 10 percent corn alcohol -- ethanol. As a result, our gas mileage goes down by a sizable amount. People usually don’t notice anymore because unlike Back in the Day, we no longer only get Not Quite Gas during the winter months, we get it all year ‘round. Like air travel before Gate Rape, real gas is something only people over 30 have any real memory of.

But, there is an out.

Because of problems that could not be hidden with Not Quite Gas -- especially physical problems in older (pre-computer) cars, outdoor power equipment (two-stroke equipment such as chainsaws, especially) and marine engines as well as problems arising from water build-up in tanks and lines (ethanol absorbs water from atmospheric humidity, etc.) and a much shorter shelf life, which is an obvious concern for owners of antique vehicles, as well as boats and power equipment that may sit for weeks/months at a time -- it is once again legal to sell real gas.

Here is a helpful website where you can find out about the availability of real gas in your area: http://pure-gas.org/

Turns out, there are almost 4,500 ethanol-free filling stations around the U.S. and Canada. If you live in Alaska (and Alberta, Canada) you're really in luck because all stations dispense real gas instead of Not Quite Gas. I checked the site's state-by-state listings and -- happy day! -- my own state of Virginia currently has 156 stations where you can buy real gas, including premium real gas. The site even includes a map to show where to find real fuel in your area.

So, any downsides?

Just the one: price. Real gas seems to run about 10 cents more per gallon for regular leaded. Premium, as you'd expect, costs more. But, the math may work out. If you factor in the better gas mileage you will get by using real gas, the higher at-the-pump cost may turn out to be negligible, or at least nominal. Plus, your machinery will last longer and run better.

And what could be better than dodging the Corn Con?

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.