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Non-ethanol gas more difficult to find, needed for small engines

Bruce Trebil, owner of Treb’s Small Engine Repair, replaces a carburetor on a snow blower at his shop Wednesday in Mitchell. Non-ethanol gasoline for older small engines like snow blowers is becoming more difficult to find because of the increased use and lower price of ethanol-blended gasoline. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

When customers bring a small engine to Bruce Trebil for repair, he always asks what type of fuel they use in it.

Trebil has been running Treb’s Small Engine Repair out of his Mitchell home on West Ash Avenue since 2011. He said gasoline that contains ethanol can cause problems for small engines, including lawnmowers and snow blowers.

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“You can run ethanol for about a year or so before you start seeing issues on the older ones,” Trebil said. “Right away you won’t have any issues with it, but down the road it will start eating up internal parts of the carburetor, which will then plug it up and it won’t run. It will also eat up the inside of the fuel line. Then, eventually it doesn’t get fuel.”

Trebil said people who have older small engines should stay away from gasoline with ethanol and should look for regular unleaded gasoline. But that’s becoming increasingly difficult to find. In Mitchell and elsewhere, some stations have recently dropped their non-ethanol gas products.

Don Meyers, of Meyers Oil, a gasoline supplier in Mitchell, explained the Renewable Fuel Standard that was passed by the federal government in 2005 requires fuel refiners to reach a certain threshold of renewable fuel sales. That is one of the reasons there’s a push for stations to sell fuel with ethanol, which is priced cheaper than regular unleaded gas.

“Naturally, price drives demand, so price dictates what you’re going to sell,” Meyers said. “The reason that most people opt for the 87 octane with ethanol is because it’s the cheapest price.”

The standard requires U.S. refiners to mix an overall volume of 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels into gasoline this year, and each individual refiner must sell a specific amount of ethanol in their gas, dependent on their sales, or face federal fines.

As more stations continue to sell more ethanol gasoline because of the price and push for renewable fuels, people need to be aware which stations sell regular unleaded to use in their small engines, Trebil said.

Tyler Graham, of Graham’s Interstate Mobile on South Burr Street, said his station sells regular unleaded and plans to continue selling it. Meyers said there are some other gas stations in town that sell regular unleaded, including one that’s owned and operated by Meyers, All Star Sinclair, which is also on South Burr Street.

“As time goes on, the small engine manufacturers are adjusting to alcohol,” Meyers said, referring to ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol. “But you’ll have to look at your owner’s manual to see if you can use alcohol in those small engines.”

Trebil said liquid additives can be purchased to make ethanol-blended gasoline safer for small engines. Small-engine manufacturers are also adjusting to better accommodate the trend toward ethanol-blended gas.

“The newer stuff, right on the gas cap it will say that it allows 10 percent ethanol,” Trebil said. “What they’re doing now is changing the fuel line and the internal parts of the carburetor and some of the engine parts. You can run ethanol in that or just unleaded in that.”