AAA warning on E15 called inaccurate, irresponsible

By Susanne Retka Schill | December 04, 2012

Ethanol supporter-reaction to the AAA report warning consumers about E15 was swift, and included automotive expert Bobby Likis. “I’m both surprised and disappointed in the entire premise of the AAA E15 article in USA Today,” the car-talk host said in a statement. “In the 41 years I have been—and still am—hands-on in the diagnosis, service and repair of cars, I find the repeating of an already dispelled myth that E15 ruins engines distasteful and contrary to the results found in extensive EPA and university studies, as well as in my first-hand experience with over 175,000 cars that have rolled through my service shop. In 41 years, we have not diagnosed a single 'ruined' engine due to ethanol." 

Revealing the results of a recent survey, the AAA said in its news release issued Nov. 30   that E15 sales should be suspended. Saying 95 percent of consumers surveyed had not heard of E15, the auto club said, “With little consumer knowledge about E15 and less than five percent of cars on the road approved by automakers to use the fuel, AAA is urging regulators and the industry to stop the sale of E15 until motorists are better protected.” The group called for more education and additional labeling, adding that its “automotive engineering experts also have reviewed the available research and believe that sustained use of E15 in both newer and older vehicles could result in significant problems.”

Growth Energy argued in its response that E15 is the most tested fuel to date and quoted the U.S. DOE’s conclusions following more than 6 million miles of testing: “the resulting Energy Department data showed no statistically significant loss of vehicle performance (emissions, fuel economy, and maintenance issues) attributable to the use of E15 fuel compared to straight gasoline.” The ethanol advocacy group also provided a link to a DOE expert’s response to a research report done by the Coordinating Research Council that is often cited as research showing E15 damage to vehicles. It also explains and defends the DOE’s E15 testing.

The Renewable Fuels Association also cited the extensive E15 testing, and questioned AAA’s motives: “AAA’s antipathy toward ethanol is well known,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen in a statement. “But when put in contrast to gasoline quality issues AAA continues to ignore, one has to wonder whose interest they’re truly trying to protect, consumers or oil companies? For years, refiners in vast swaths of the country have sold sub-87 octane fuel, which no auto company warranties today. Where’s AAA’s outrage and concern about that?”

Calling the AAA warning inaccurate and irresponsible, the American Coalition for Ethanol also questioned the organization’s motives. “You would also think that AAA would have a better understanding of automobile warranties, and would defend their members from possible fraud by car dealers who want to avoid making warranty repairs,” said ACE Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty. “Not even the Big Oil study suggests any engines would have any kind of actual ‘break down.’ Statements like this one—that ignore the huge volume of evidence that proves E15 is safe—amount to AAA providing cover for unscrupulous mechanics who want to charge motorists for expensive repairs that were never made.”

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this statement came out during a week when lobbying groups for both Big Oil and Big Food have started up their latest PR campaign against ethanol. The price of oil is down, and Big Oil is spending tens of millions trying to eliminate competition, while Big Food is turning the drought into an opportunity to increase prices and pad their bottom lines,” Lamberty said.