Over the last few years the composition of petrol has altered a lot, it is now normal for petrol to contain a minimum of 5% ethanol (E5) or bio-fuel and from 2013 the new regulations allow this level to increase to 10% ethanol (E10). The reason for this change in fuel composition is to help reduce green house gases produced by road traffic, in a hope to meet the EU 2020 targets of a 10% reduction in accordance to the 2009/30/EC Directive.
At present a campaign to raise awareness of this issue within the classic car community is ongoing with the daily mail, telegraph and most classic car magazine running articles on this issue, so that drivers understand why these changes are being made and why they must check their engines more regularly.
The main issue for classic car drivers is that our engines were not designed with petrol containing ethanol in mind. Ethanol is an alcohol and has two properties that our camper vans hate. Ethanol is a solvent so will quickly dissolve any rubber parts which is comes into contact with it. These include old fashioned braided fuel hoses and fuel filler necks. The second problem ethanol causes, is its chemical structure is designed to bind water and as such water becomes present in the fuel tank and will increase the rate of fuel tanks rusting from the 'inside out' causing blockages in the fuel lines and carburettor.
This change in fuel composition is a major issue for any vehicle that has a carburettor, rubber fuel lines and steel uncoated fuel tanks. Sadly, our camper vans have all three of these features. The department of transport have issued several independent studies on this subject and even the new legislation warns that old cars will have problems running on E10 fuel. There is however no intention to stop the changes just a warning that we should all update our vehicles and maintain them as best as we can.
The issue of carburettors getting clogged up is not that major because our petrol has contained detergents for years so the tanks should be reasonably clean. As long as fuel filters are present in the fuel line and these are inspected and change regularly you should be fine.
So we will probably do a few less miles to the gallon, and find it harder to start on cold days, plus need our engine tuning over a bit more often, these are minor issues. Nobody I know drives a camper van for fuel economy, and bumpy starts are just part of VW life.
What is a major issue and one we can do something about is the fuel lines!
Ethanol 5% will decrease the life expectancy of normal braided fuel line, at 10% ethanol the fuel will quickly destroy and make it brittle. So, if you are getting a petrol smell occasionally, please don't just ignore it. Check your fuel lines regularly, touch them and make sure they are OK and not leaking or cracked. If they start to deteriorate and you are looking to change them, use fuel lines that are suitable for E10 petrol or stronger mixtures such 100% biofuel lines.
Because most campervan are not driven daily and are stored over the winter months, the rate of deterioration of fuel line is greatly increased. It is not the outside braid that deteriorates but the internal rubber hose, once the natural oils have been removed, they become brittle and hard and crack easily. You need to touch and check your fuel line regularly especially after standing.
There are currently a couple of options to prevent this problem, some companies have looked at adding 'improving' agents to the fuel and as yet there is no conclusive scientific prove this help or decrease the rate of deterioration of the fuel lines, though it has been shown to reduce the carburettor icing issue. The other issue is to move away from rubber hose braided fuel lines and put modern fuel line on your campervan.
There are several types of fuel line available on the market, the minimum specification you need to be chancing over to fuel hose manufactured to the European standard of SAE J30 R9. This fuel hose is suitable for modern petrol and is designed to last in a standard modern car the length of its warranty, so about 5 years. This however is significantly reduced in camper-vans due to the storage period and in practice it tends to need changing about every 2 - 3 years. You will need to continue to check the fuel hose, as though suitable for use in up to E10 petrol, it does still contain rubber so will deteriorate over time.
VW Aircooled Works offers a much better solution to this problem by promoting fuel hose kits for campervans that are impermeable to ethanol. Our 'fit and forget' fuel hose kits will not deteriorate, crack or split due to the presence of ethanol. The fuel hose within these kits is suitable for use with petrol up to 100% biofuel so in future if the level of biofuel used within petrol is increased the fuel hose will not require changing.
Our 'fit and forget' fuel hose will not have an increased deteriation rate over winter storage. All our fuel line is manufacture in Europe to the highest standards, and is what is currently being used not only by Volkswagen today in its brand new cars but also by a lot of high end sports cars.