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A clerk attends to a customer at a gas station in Chatham, Ontario, in this file photo. In the search for renewable energy, turning low-value materials like switchgrass and corn husks into ethanol to fuel cars is something of a Holy Grail. But scientists on the front lines of this search are finding that making the process commercially and environmentally viable is proving much harder than some of the hype would suggest. Mark Blinch/Reuters (MARK BLINCH/MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
A clerk attends to a customer at a gas station in Chatham, Ontario, in this file photo. In the search for renewable energy, turning low-value materials like switchgrass and corn husks into ethanol to fuel cars is something of a Holy Grail. But scientists on the front lines of this search are finding that making the process commercially and environmentally viable is proving much harder than some of the hype would suggest. Mark Blinch/Reuters (MARK BLINCH/MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

You & Your Car

Why ethanol blends won't corrode your car Add to ...

QUESTION: I've been told that ethanol attracts water from the air, is corrosive to fuel tanks, fuel lines, carbs and injectors, etc. Pumped gasoline begins to degrade immediately and, in the process, fuel economy suffers. If these statements are true, is the use of either 5- or 10-per-cent blended fuel harmful in today's automobiles?

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It's my understanding that Shell premium fuel V-Power doesn't contain ethanol. I'm not sure about the other refiners.

Paul

ANSWER: The ethanol issue has become the source of a great deal of discussion and debate. The decision to include ethanol in fuel distributed in Ontario and areas of the country is rife with political and lobbying issues.

Ethanol contains about 30 per cent less energy than conventional gasoline, so a 10-per-cent blend will reduce fuel economy by about 3 per cent.

You are right in that ethanol has some corrosive effects, but that is taken care of by additives known as corrosion inhibitors, which are added to the fuel during the refining process.

The engines of cars sold in Canada have been compatible with fuel mixtures of up to 10-per-cent ethanol since the mid 1980s.

As for the issues of water absorption and fuel degradation, since you raised the issue of its new V-Power fuel, I turned to Shell for answers.

Shell scientists say the venting of fuel tanks can allow moisture to condense in fuel tanks and that, as water dissolves into ethanol in blended gasoline, it becomes less soluble. "If the amount of water was sufficient, the water and ethanol would actually separate from the gasoline and drop to the bottom of the fuel tank with gasoline as a layer on top."

Shell points out that this is a rare event and requires a "significant ingress of water." It says that usually the amount of condensation and resulting water in tanks is insignificant, even if small amounts of melting snow or rain find its way into the tank.

'Orphan' parts

QUESTION: I have a 2000 Daewoo Nubira (yes, they aren't very common any more) and I am the original owner, having hung in there for nine years. It has about 85,000 kilometres. When my wife was driving it to work the other day, it stopped working. The garage tells me the timing belt snapped and the valves are bent.

It's apparently fixable but very expensive and I have always had problems getting parts. I know it's not worth anything. Should I fix it or scrap it?

We have another vehicle, and very much like having two. If I scrap the Nubira, how should I go about it? I just paid nearly $2,000 for repairs including new tires in the car in the last four months.

Francois

ANSWER: Finding replacement parts can be an issue for what are known as "orphan" vehicles.

Daewoo was purchased and used by General Motors as a source low-priced cars for several years, so you might try calling the parts department of several GM dealers to see if they stock or have access to parts for your engine.

It might be possible to secure the belt, valves and associated components to allow the head to be rebuilt, if the pistons and cylinder walls look okay.

Another approach might be to scour scrap yards for a used engine. Many of the larger yards are linked through the Web, allowing them to search for parts; you might get lucky and find one that a good mechanic can swap for your old one.

As for how to scrap the old car, that depends on where you live and the regulations in effect in your province. While talking to the scrap yards about a replacement engine, inquire if are any parts of your car are of value.

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