6th March 2020

New E10 petrol poses threat to classic cars

The proposed introduction of E10 petrol poses some serious challenges for owners of classic vehicles. But now, the Government is consulting on ways to preserve supplies of E5 fuel for classic cars…

After an initial consultation period, the Department of Transport has reaffirmed its intention to introduce a “greener” standard of unleaded fuel, E10, by 2021.

As part of the government’s stated target of reaching a net zero on carbon emissions by 2050, Grant Shaps, the Transport Secretary announced that a move to the E10 grade of petrol, which contains up to 10% bioethanol and could save up to 750,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. The government estimates that this would have the same effect as removing 350,000 vehicles from the road.    

But for owners of classic cars there’s a big problem on the horizon. While classic vehicles can happily run on the E5 petrol currently on sale, the new E10 fuel with its higher percentage of ethanol can cause all sorts of problems for them.

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), the potential issues include:

  • Blocked fuel filters
  • Damaged fuel pumps
  • Degradation to flexible fuel hoses
  • Corroded carburettors

Footman James asked an expert, Martin Greaves of Classic Performance Engineering, to clarify the situation for motorists

How does E10 fuel cause problems?

“The move to change to mainly E10 fuel is a real concern for classic car owners. Ethanol in fuel has been around since 2008, and in the industry we are already seeing problems arising from the current addition of low levels of ethanol in existing fuels (even up to the 5% level). These problems include deposits blocking fine mesh fuel filters, degradation of fuel pipes and hoses and internals of carburettors suffering corrosion.

The regime required to fully empty and clean fuel systems between uses of the car is prohibitive both in terms of time and practicality, and replacing components with ethanol compatible ones may not always be economical, or in certain cases, even possible.”

How many cars will be affected?

While current estimates suggest that there are 700,000 vehicles that are incompatible with E10 fuel in regular use on the UK’s roads, the government estimates that scrappage schemes will remove the majority of these, leaving only a few of what they term “cherished and classic” vehicles.

What can owners of classic cars do?

Classic cars will still be able to run on E5 petrol, as the Government has pledged that there will be continued supplies of E5 petrol when E10 goes on sale, however there is an economic sting in the tail for classic car owners, as it may only be sold in the form of ‘Super’ grade unleaded.

The same day as the consultation was announced, the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) Chairman David Whale attended a meeting at the House of Commons with the All Party Parliamentary Historic Vehicles Group, chaired by Sir Greg Knight, to reinforce the concerns of the Federation’s members directly with MPs.

The following question was posed to the Secretary of State for Transport by Sir Greg Knight, Conservative MP for East Yorkshire:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what assessment he has made of the potential effect of the use of E10 fuel on older vehicles?”

Which received the following response from Rachel Maclean, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport):

“Increasing the share of bioethanol in petrol by blending up to 10 per cent, known as E10, could provide significant carbon savings, helping us meet our climate change commitments. One of the main barriers to introducing E10 has been vehicle compatibility. Currently, around 95% of petrol cars used in the UK can use E10, but around 700,000 are not warranted by their manufacturers to use E10. This number is expected to decrease as vehicles come to the end of their life. However, some classic and cherished vehicles that are not advised to use E10 will remain in use. The prolonged use of E10 fuel in those older and classic vehicles not under manufacturer warranty can cause corrosion of some rubbers and alloys used in the engine and fuel systems. For those vehicles, the Department remains committed to ensuring that E5 is retained as a protection grade, if E10 is introduced.”

For information from the FBHVC on their position on the E10 fuels consultation, visit their website.

Is there a downside to ‘super’ grade unleaded?

“The downside to this ‘super’ grade unleaded at the 5% ethanol level is that we are already seeing issues being caused at this 5% level. When these are factored in alongside the additional cost which will be levied on this fuel, it becomes a greater cause for concern.

Aside from the mere cost, the other main concern shared by many within the industry centres around whether or not the fuel will continue to be readily and widely available in the long term.

The Government is running the consultation on E10 fuel until April 19th, so you can have your say here.

Overall, the low mileages covered by the average classic car owner will likely lessen any possible deleterious effects of ethanol fuel found in ‘Super’ grade unleaded, as well as minimising the actual additional cost of the ‘Super’ grade petrol.

What do you think about the proposal? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

The "low mileage" the average classic car owner does is irrelevant, as not all classic car enthusiasts such as myself are low milers, weekend drivers or occasional "to the show and back twice a year" types of owners. Even if we all were, we should not have to worry about component failure from fuel legislation changes or cost penalties given we already pay more for fuel for typically low mpg by modern standards. A) I own several classic vehicles. My daily driver is a. MG B. I have no intention of buying a modern car. For those of us like me, will E5 remain available indefinitely? B) if it does not remain available indefinitely, are there any plans to sell tried tested and endorsed ethanol removal fluid en masses at petrol stations to negate E10 allowing regular E10 use with peace of mind C) If so, will said fluid be compatible with lead replacement fluids currently sold and used such as Redex? Or lead pellet deposits? Something I and many others use each time we fill up D) Failing the above, how will people such as myself who drive reasonable to high mileage be protected and our cars protected? I drove 15k miles per year and already invest greater amounts of time in maintenance than typical today in order to keep my classics on the road in nice condition and to comfortably operate the high miles per year without worry on reliability. Not all classic cars are tucked away and driven only a few miles per year. Anyone similar to myself will already be familiar with declining parts quality and trust in manufacturing care. E10 may reduce parts reliability even further and force these cherished cars off the road through a combination of compatibility issues, price of fuel and impacted reliability of components.

Alexander, 31/03/2020

It’s the usual story, the government make plans which only allow those than can afford new vehicles and no consideration is made to those families/individuals that are unable to find such vehicle.. I appreciate that we are all striving to make the world a better place for our children etc BUT let’s consider the finances of the average joe and not just base it on the financial status of MP’s , which I’ve no doubt are in the top end of the average earning bracket. It’s not just about classics but about people who own older vehicles (including the vulnerable like disabled people) who can’t afgird this uplift in daily running costs and the thought of having to purchase a compatible vehicle. Yes offer the alternative but make it more useable and cost effective. )

Damo, 28/03/2020

I absolutely agree. I see no sense at all in punishing the enthusiast who only covers 3/4 thousand miles per year polluting far less than the 50k miles per annum serial car consumer. The government have to see sense here.

Haguey, 19/03/2020