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Avoiding ATV Ethanol Problems

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) aren’t cheap – maybe they don’t cost as much as a boat does, but they’re certainly worth taking care of.  For the typical owner, the biggest area of concern is the fuel and fuel system.  Without a good fuel supply used in the right way, the ATV isn’t going to go anywhere.  And today’s fuels are, let’s just say, more problematic than in years past. Whether because of cracking processes or ethanol content, ATV owners have to be more vigilant than ever before to head off fuel problems in their ATV.

atv-ethanol-problems.jpgToday’s gasolines contain up to 10% ethanol content. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your gas from a supplier that hasn’t mismeasured that ethanol percentage, because that kind of thing happens a lot more often than you'd expect. A few years back, AAA did a national survey of random gas stations and found many stations had gasoline with ethanol content exceeding the stated maximum 10%. It’s not their fault, it was someone at their fuel supplier who probably wasn’t paying attention.  But there’s no way to tell on the consumer end if the gas you're pumping has more or less than 10% ethanol in it. You just have to make assumptions and hope for the best.

The issue of cracking is relevant with ATVs because, as we understand it, some ATVs get left for weeks on end between uses. So fuel is sitting there in the tank, waiting to go bad, collecting water and forming varnishes and deposits. The cracking processes used at the refinery to make gasoline cause the gas to be less stable in storage. So it forms gums and varnishes in your ATV’s fuel system a lot faster than in the past. Not to mention, if it's ethanol gas like E10, then you also have to worry about water absorption and phase separation in that sitting gas, which is the quickest way we know to destroy the quality of a whole tank of fuel.

Do any of these other ATV performance problems look familiar to you?

PROBLEM: The engine won’t run without you keeping the choke on.

LIKELY CAUSE: One of the essential fuel supply jets, either the primary, the starter, or the enrichening jet, is clogged and interrupting the fuel supply.

PROBLEM: The engine refuses to rev up as normal, even acting as if it’s starving for fuel.

LIKELY CAUSE: Same as above. One or more of the jets are clogged, which means the engine isn’t getting the proper flow of fuel.

PROBLEM:  The engine idles just fine, but dies out when you give it fuel.

LIKELY CAUSE: Water or foreign matter in the fuel. Something’s in the fuel that isn’t supposed to be there, and it’s interfering with proper combustion when the fuel is injected.

PROBLEM: You notice fuel leaking out the bottom of the carburetor.

LIKELY CAUSE: The fuel has formed varnish that has collected on parts like the needle jet. This prevents the float from closing inside, leaving room for fuel to leak out.

Luckily, all of these common problems can be prevented with a good fuel additive. You spent a lot on your ATV, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot to prevent these issues. A good fuel additive for your ATV should at least able to control water in ethanol fuels (but do it without using alcohol) and it should have a good detergent package in it. If you have at least those two things, you should expect to be able to use your ATV all summer long without fuel problems.

You may be interested in these other posts:

How to Buy a Fuel Additive to Treat Ethanol


This post was published on June 14, 2016 and was updated on June 14, 2016.

Topics: Small Equipment and Generators, Ethanol