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My neighbour tells me the ethanol in today's fuel ruined his chain saw and lawn mower engines. Can it harm my car engine? – Jim in Windsor

No, it will not.

Today's passenger vehicle engines are developed around fuel that contain ethanol. However, there is no question the federal requirement that gasoline sold in Canada contain 5 per cent ethanol has caused difficulties for small engines such as those used in lawn mowers, weed whackers, etc.

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The Canadian requirement is lower than the 10 per cent in the U.S., which is moving to 15 per cent. At the 5 per cent level I doubt it is creating the problems your neighbour reports, but at 15 per cent there might be issues, particularly with engines left unused for lengthy periods of time since ethanol contains more moisture, which can lead to rust and at high concentrations dissolve some plastic parts.

There is a growing market for, and supply of, boutique ethanol-free fuels formulated specifically for power equipment whether used straight or mixed with oil for two-cycle engines. Expensive though at $2.50/litre or more.

But you need not go that route with your little engines. Buy gasoline for these appliances in small quantities so it does not sit around long. Buy premium gasoline as it has more additives to burn cleaners and use a fuel stabilizer. Don't look for this problem to go away. Ethanol produces less energy per unit than gasoline, so is detrimental to fuel mileage, but it is cheaper than gasoline so adding more than required is one way for refiners to pad their profits.

Starting old engine

My grandfather passed away recently and I have the opportunity to get his 1968 Impala. There is nothing special about the car other than then memories attached to the summer visits to my grandparents and the drives in that big old boat. The car appears to be in good condition with no rust, but it has not been used or driven for many years and I worry about the engine. Will it have been damaged by sitting for so long? What steps should I take before attempting to start it? – Paul in Regina

Many of the engine's internal metal surfaces may be stuck together because the oil will have broken down by now.

Step one would be to drain the old oil and replace it with a high-quality one designed for high-mileage engines.

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Having done that, you can try turning the engine over by hand with a wrench at the end of the crankshaft pulley. If it moves, you can remove the distributor and use an electric drill and dummy distributor shaft to drive the oil pump and circulate the new oil through the engine. This will also pump up the hydraulic lifters.

But that is only the beginning! Now you will have to deal with removing all the old gas, cleaning and rebuilding the affected components before starting the engine. Make sure you also replace the transmission fluid before attempting to move the vehicle.

Then comes the biggest problem – various leaks as the old seals and gaskets might have dried out. The degree to which you will be affected by any or all of this will vary, but at some point a rebuilt engine or transmission might be a wise move.

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