The majority of fuel system problems in modern equipment and vehicles stem from the fuel itself. Ethanol-blended and oxygenated fuels start to go bad within 30 days, so that fuel in your leaf blower from your last round of yard work in the fall is likely not what it was when you fire up the engine again come spring.
The two main problems with ethanol-blended and/or oxygenated fuels are oxidation and corrosion. One way to prevent oxidation and corrosion brought on by modern fuels in power equipment, recreational vehicles or even a seldom-driven car, is by using a good quality fuel treatment.
It’s important to know that no industry standards exist for fuel treatments, but you can recognize an effective fuel treatment by looking for a few basic things:
Over time, fuel molecules begin to lose atoms and become less stable. The fuel molecules naturally try to fill the openings left by missing atoms by bonding with other fuel molecules with missing atoms. This “clumping” of molecules is a process known as oxidation. Oxidized fuel turns to gum that clogs jets and other orifices and, since it’s degraded fuel, it doesn’t burn well. An antioxidant works by adding free radicals that get picked up by fuel molecules and help prevent the process of oxidation.
Corrosion Inhibitor (Protection)
Ethanol is a corrosive substance and can eat away at yellow and “soft” metals such as brass and aluminum that are commonly found in fuel systems. A corrosion inhibitor will contain a yellow metal deactivator that coats the metal and keeps ethanol from coming into contact with it.
Better fuel treatments will contain detergents that help clean the fuel system. Detergents form a polar bond with carbon and help pull it out of the fuel system and engine during the engine’s run process. Detergents can work both inside the fuel system and in the combustion chamber. There are two main types of detergents found in fuel treatments, one cleans up to the cylinder or intake valves and the other cleans into the combustion chamber.
A good fuel treatment will not contain alcohol. Adding alcohol to ethanol-blended fuels only compounds the problems found with ethanol-blended fuels. Some alcohols are effective for use in “winter” fuel treatments and serve a valuable purpose in keeping fuel systems working in sub-zero temperatures. However, some companies use alcohol in an attempt to further solubilize moisture found in the fuel system and these fuel treatments should be avoided.