Ethanol Causes 70% of Spring Outboard Repairs - 06/17/2009

Report Highlights:
  • Problems with Ethanol
  • Ethanol Fuel Breaks Down
  • Don’t Let Ethanol Fuel Sit
  • Ethanol Needs Fuel Stabilizers
  • Ethanol in outboard motors
  • Ethanol in boats causes repair bills
  • E10 gums up outboard carburetors
  • E10 in boats causes problems say mechanics

This spring there was trouble in River City, as in St. Cloud, Minnesota, home of three of the largest boat builders in America – Glastron, Larson, and Crestliner. But the trouble had nothing to do with the boats, but rather with the fuel being sold to run their engines. Again the culprit was ethanol in the fuel, a complaint that we hear about every spring and it seems to do what is commonly called E10. Recently an article was published in the St. Cloud Times interviewing three service techs working in the marine industry.

Merc Engine
When outboard engines came into repair shops in central Minnesota this spring they knew right where to look.


Rob Gleason, service manager of Bee Line Yamaha Super Store in St. Joseph, said 70 to 75 percent of the boats they see at the beginning of the boating season are coming in for a carburetor cleaning due to buildup from oxygenated fuels. Oxygenated fuels include substances such as ethanol and biodiesel and contain oxygen, usually intended to reduce carbon emissions.

He said if a boat is left idle for more than three weeks with an oxygenated fuel such as E10 in the tank, the fuel begins to break down faster, separate and plug up parts such as jets and injectors.

The buildup can restrict gas flow and cause lean conditions, which makes cooling the engine difficult, he said. “That’s when you get a chance of breaking down,” he said.

Gleason said the best way to run a boat is to use a nonoxygenated fuel but said the trick is finding a place that sells it.

“(I’ve) yet to find a standard pump gas that doesn’t break down,” he said. Gleason said even premium pump fuels begin to break down within 30 days.

PWC Dealer Says…

Joe Shimota, boat manager at Bristow’s Kawasaki and Polaris Inc., said there’s a difference between using an ethanol-blend fuel for a car and for a boat because cars typically don’t stand idle for weeks or months. “You’ve just got to have good fuel for these things,” he said. “It’s not a car you drive every day.”

The cost of improperly storing a boat can vary.

Gleason said it can cost anywhere from $75 to $275 to repair the damage from storing boats with oxygenated fuels, if all the parts on the boat are in good condition.

A Third Dealer Says…

Chuck Merten, service manager at Richmond Marine and Sports in Richmond, said depending on the size of the engine and the amount of damage or buildup, owners could spend up to $5,000.

Realistically, owners should never use oxygenated fuels for boats, but most will be fine as long as they’re being used, Gleason said.

“(If you) decide not to use it much, that’s when you get in trouble,” he said. But there are a few things boat owners can do if they know their boat is going to be idle for a while.

Merten said to buy as little fuel as needed and use it up before storing or refueling. Gleason said owners should drain the carburetors on their boats and add fuel stabilizers, but not to use Sea Foam as a stabilizer.

“Most people don’t listen and we see them back here in six months,” he said.