“I don’t believe it” and “They don’t care.” That was the gist of two comments in response to a recent news post on Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s website. The post shared a new tool from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute to help you educate customers about the dangers — and illegality — of using fuels that contain greater than 10% ethanol.

A consumer commented, “I'm concerned that the argument sounds shrill, hyped up and short on real facts.” He says he’s used E10 in his equipment for years and has never had a problem. He also says, “I find it difficult to believe that it is ILLEGAL to run E15 in small engines.” 

The upside is at least this customer is paying attention to the issue. A dealer commented on the same news post saying, “Customers show very little interest in the fuel literature unless they have actually had an issue with their equipment. We find that handing out the two pieces may make us feel better, but the customer does not take the time to read it or try to understand.”

I shared these comments with Kris Kiser, president of OPEI. He’s not surprised by either. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the institute quantified the problem. They found that 63% of Americans will use the least expensive grade of gasoline whenever possible. The study also showed that nearly 74% of Americans say they are not at all sure if it’s legal or illegal to put high level ethanol gas into small engine products. 

When dealing with customers who have doubts, he says a simple Google search using terms like “EPA E15 warning label” will show government sources validating the issue. Related searches like “EPA E10 small engines” also highlight the problem from objective sources. 

Sounds easy enough to do. Maybe something your salespeople could do on their mobile phones every time they sell mowers, chainsaws, snow blowers, UTVs, generators and other equipment. And then right after that, lead customers over to the ethanol-free gas that you carry. 

Customers who don’t necessarily doubt the warnings, but don’t really care are a bigger issue. “It’s not interesting until you have a problem and then you’re really interested,” Kiser says. His advice for dealers: “Stay at it.” 

The idea that it’s up to dealers may not sit well, but it’s reality. E15 fuel is now available in 16 states and expanding. 

Manufacturers aren’t developing engines that can handle the fuel because they can’t. Kiser says EPA certifications are for fuel that has no ethanol, so they can’t and won’t design an engine that can handle the higher levels of ethanol. Changes are coming, though, as OPEI and others work to change the EPA certification levels to address the ethanol issue.

“We’re moving in that direction. Changes are going to happen in the next few short years,” Kiser says.

So, keep talking to customers, keep listening to their complaints about damaged engines and keep fixing their machines. That is the only solution — for now.