Ethanol (E85) Flex Fuel Vehicles

All gasoline sold in California contains up to 10% ethanol to help it burn cleaner, but ethanol is mostly used in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) that are capable of operating on gasoline, E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) or a mixture of both. E85 has about 30% less energy per gallon, so a FFV’s fuel efficiency when running on ethanol will be 30% less than when running on gasoline.

Benefits

Smog-forming emissions from E85-fueled FFVs are similar to those from gasoline-powered vehicles. However, since ethanol can be produced domestically it does reduce dependence on petroleum. Also, depending on how the ethanol is made, it can have fewer greenhouse gas emissions when you consider the upstream emissions associated with production and transporting the fuel.

Still, the transportation sector in California accounts for a significant portion of emissions, making zero-emission cars such as battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric cars an attractive alternative to E85 vehicles.

How They Work

Ethanol is an alcohol made primarily from corn. Because ethanol is derived from feedstock that is grown, it is considered a renewable fuel. In addition, since the feedstock for ethanol is largely domestically produced, it reduces the nation's dependence on petroleum.

Availability

A variety of FFVs are available for consumers, mostly full-sized trucks, vans and sedans, with the number potentially growing as E85 fueling stations become more available. Sometimes owners of vehicles capable of using E85 are not even aware they are driving a FFV. Consumers seeking an E85 car should make sure to compare the fuel economy and emissions ratings on the Fuel Economy and Environment Label before making a selection. Search vehicles to see available models.

Performance

FFVs are similar to conventional gasoline counterparts in power, acceleration, payload and cruise speed. The only noticeable difference is that fuel economy is lower when FFVs run on ethanol.

Costs

The cost of a FFV is about the same as a pure gasoline car. When looking at fuel prices, remember that FFVs are 30% less fuel efficient when running on ethanol; however, the fuel is often priced lower to compensate.

Incentives

FFVs do not typically qualify for incentives.

Fueling

Find E85 stations near you at the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center, which provides maps to U.S. refueling stations for compressed natural gas (CNG), LPG/propane, ethanol, electric, biodiesel, hydrogen and liquefied natural gas (LNG).