The United States Environmental Protection Agency and market forces have made it increasingly difficult to find gasoline made without ethanol. Engines running gasoline fuel oxygenated with ethanol have many problems, while small equipment (gasoline engines running on a blend of fuel and oil) have real performance problems of their own.
Prevention is the key to preserving long-lasting equipment whilst maintaining the power to do the jobs needed. Properly winterizing and summerizing your small equipment is a key part of the strategy to protect against ethanol damage. Chain saws, brush cutters, tillers, lawn mowers, and leaf blowers are some of the small gas-powered tools that may need winterizing.
Ethanol is an alcohol additive that uses corn or cane sugar as its base. When ethanol mixes with gasoline, you get E10; this designation signifies that the fuel has 10 percent ethanol. The reason for including ethanol in gasoline blends is because it burns cleaner, causing engines using it to send fewer greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
But the tradeoff is significant in both engine performance and potential engine damage.
Ethanol is Your Engine's Enemy
When small equipment burns gasoline with ethanol, water contamination and fuel separation are the biggest threats. To say ethanol “soaks up water like a sponge” is correct; any water that ethanol meets, it absorbs. Eventually, the ethanol has absorbed so much water that it separates into layers. Gasoline is the top layer and the ethanol + water sinks to the bottom of fuel tanks as the bottom layer. If you start your engine and suck in the water layer, severe and sometime irreparable damage occurs.
Small two-stroke engines that run ethanol blends have even more problems. As water dilutes the oil blended with gas, the oil is unable to reach parts of the engine dependent on the oil in the fuel for lubrication. This leads to poor engine performance and the likelihood of engine damage. Storing your equipment properly for long periods helps avoid most of the ethanol related problems.
Winterizing your Small Equipment
- Run the engine until it runs out of fuel.
- Refill the fuel tank with fuel and the correct amount of a non-alcohol-containing fuel additive. You do not need much gas as you want to run the engine for a few minutes until it runs out of gas again. This is to ensure the additive containing gas has spread through the engine and protects inner parts from rusting but no gas remains in the engine or fuel tank.
- Take the spark plug out and spray a little lubricant in the plug socket. Then give the starter cord a few yanks. If you need to replace the spark plug, do it now.
- Check the owner’s manual and grease all parts indicated by the manual.
- Replace filters and top off lube.
- Clean the working parts of debris and dirt, wood particles, and caked-on grass. Use a brush on painted surfaces and then wipe painted surfaces down with a cloth. If you notice chipped paint, touch up those spots to prevent rust.
- Disconnect the spark plug, but leave it in the plug socket.
- Find a dry area for storing the equipment that is dust-free and allows you to keep it upright.
Summerizing the Engine
If you have followed all the steps for winterizing your small equipment, preparing it for warm weather is easy. Fill the tank with fuel, which has an additive mixed in at the proper ratio. Make sure the additive does not contain alcohol. You are good to go.
This post was published on February 21, 2014 and was updated on April 19, 2021.