Don’t let ethanol ruin the day
Before getting started, something I mentioned a couple of weeks back as a reminder has now been updated to warning status. Your La. fishing license expired at the end of June. I know of two different anglers that unfortunately had that fact pointed out to them last weekend while on the water.
I spent a soggy July Fourth weekend moving into yet another new boat and before all was said and done, I was made painfully aware of the fact that the ethanol problem is far more than a mechanic’s scare tactic. According to the data on gas pumps, each gallon of gas contains at least 10 percent ethanol and that is a major problem for both 2 stroke and 4 stroke outboard engine owners.
My awakening all started as part of an accepted cost of selling my boats on a 1 to 2 year basis. I keep them very clean, well-maintained and sell them at an affordable price with a lot of warranty time remaining. As a rule, they usually wind up in the hands of a client that has already fished out of the boat a time or two.
Prior to selling each boat, I turn it over to Dennis Hebert and the folks in the shop at Texas Marine so that they can check out everything from steering adjustments to the slightest miss. In this case there was no missing, but I had to re-start the engine on the initial start-up on two occasions over the course of a week. That is very rare with a four stroke.
While they were checking that out, the folks at Coastal Propeller in Bridge City were restoring my prop to mint condition. I am never as concerned with slight dings as the possibility of having altered the pitch and that can sometimes be hard to detect with the naked eye. Either way, they did their usual fantastic job in a short period of time. Why would you take a prop anywhere else?
The anticipated incurred cost of selling a boat in excellent condition was going as expected until Mike Melancon called from Texas Marine. “That minor starting problem last week was the first sign of some more serious ethanol problems. I want you to see something, but we are going to go ahead and address the problems since you are on a short clock!”
At $100 an hour labor charges, the parts do not have to be too expensive to run up a pretty good bill. While no one wants to spend more money on something they have already sold, I feel twice blessed in this instance. They were able to get my work done quickly and the engine did not leave me and my clients on the water.
You do not always get a warning when ethanol starts breaking down your gasoline. Johnny Cormier and I had already gone through the worst case scenario while guiding a big group less than a month ago. He was running a 2-stoke Yamaha HPDI and called to see where I was, at the time.
“I have run all over this lake,” he said, “and all of a sudden my engine just started losing power like it’s starving for fuel….meet me over here by Green’s bayou.” By the time I got there he had already bypassed his fuel/water separator and the problem was getting worse if anything
Now here’s the deal in the event that any armchair mechanics are trying to read anything into this. Johnny is a career mechanic and he had Hebert on the phone as well. If he and I were piloting planes and ran out of fuel, I would immediately get everyone off the plane in parachutes and kiss a pile of money good-bye. Johnny, on the other hand, would figure out a way to make the wings flap manually with those same parachutes, save the plane and get a bonus!
That said, undetected particles broken loose by the ethanol in his gas had plugged a filter that he could not even get to at that point. His diagnosis was right on the money, but of no use. It took us two trips and the rest of the day to get all the fishermen and two boats safely back home in very rough seas.
Fuel stabilizers and ethanol treatments for your gas are only a part of the solution. They will reduce moisture, preserve the octane rating and provide you a more complete burn of your fuel. Still, that is not enough according to Hebert.
“Ethanol is just a monster in our business,” says Hebert. “We can clean up carburetors and injectors and replace filters, but if a customer’s boat sits for a month the damage may have already started before he ever takes it out again.” Ethanol is a solvent and it is constantly breaking down build-ups in the fuel delivery system. ”
Decreased performance can be very subtle until the day an in-line filter is suddenly plugged with debris. “Recreational boaters and fishermen are just going to have to use quality in-line fuel-water separators and change out their filter on a much more frequent basis to help combat the associated problems with ethanol,” says Hebert.
With the rising cost of gas and oil, no one wants to hear that the added cost of fuel treatment and more frequent filter changes is their greatest protection against ethanol damage, but ethanol is here to stay. “You can pay me now or pay me later,” is not a scare tactic.
I don’t know if Starbrite’s new additive is the best available as I have never used any brand, but everything else they make has worked as advertised for me and I put most of them to the test over 250 days a year. I just bought my first bottle and added an emergency 10 micron filter to my on-board tool kit.
You gotta start somewhere and paddling clients around is not an option.