Would the introduction of E10 fuel threaten classic car owners?

As DfT weighs up changes to how fuel is made available in UK, we ask how 10 percent bioethanol grade becoming mainstream might affect classic owners

The way fuels are served up on British garage forecourts might change in 2020, as the Department for Transport (DfT) evaluates a switch to E10 fuels. With the UK Government pushing to meet strict environmental targets, the percentage of bioethanol contained in petrol and diesel might increase to help hit those emissions reductions.

However, this move would complicate keeping classic cars on the road and running at full strength, according to research by the RAC Foundation. The list of classics potentially affected by these changes is as long as it is varied, encompassing MGBs, Porsche 911s, original Minis, first-generation Mazda MX-5s, Jaguar XJs and more.

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DfT proposals would eliminate a guaranteed nationwide supply of E5 unleaded fuel – known also as 95 RON or 95 octane unleaded – to be replaced by E10 as the default unleaded fuel sold on forecourts. As the name suggests, this fuel mixture is made up of almost 10 percent bioethanol.

The proposed legislation does contain some relief for classic car owners, though. Larger petrol stations that dispense over three million litres of fuel would be required to stock the currently ubiquitous standard E5, rather than the more expensive ‘super’ grade E5 petrol.

Although this stipulation means most supermarket sites would be required to carry E5, the vast majority of non-supermarket filling stations don’t meet this criterion, according to UK Petroleum Industry Association data.

An increase in biofuel percentage for unleaded fuel carries risks for older vehicles. Vapour lock in cars fitted with carburettors has always been an issue, but the switch to a higher biofuel component risks exacerbating it further.

Corroded seals and gaskets are also a likely occurrence for incompatible vehicles. Non-original replacement parts which can cope with E10 fuels are available in many cases, although much sought-after originality will need to be compromised.

Manufacturers issue guidance as to whether their vehicles are compatible with E10’s mix on a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ basis in continental Europe, due to the fuel’s ubiquity in countries such as France and Germany.

The RAC Foundation’s list of potentially compromised cars counts only those that are anticipated to have over 2000 examples still in circulation in two years’ time.

The list of likely affected models is a long one, so brace yourself. Most examples of the MGB, MGF, MG TF, MG Midget, Austin Mini, Rover Mini, Morris Mini, Morris Minor, Volkswagen Golf, Porsche 911, Porsche 944, Mazda MX-5, Jaguar E-type, Ford Capri, Ford Cortina, Triumph Stag, Triumph Spitfire, Triumph Herald, Jaguar XJ, Citroen 2CV, TVR Chimaera, Lotus Elan, Alfa Romeo Spider, Morgan 4/4, Austin Seven and other low-volume British vehicles are all advised as being incompatible with E10 fuel, according to their manufacturers. That’s not even the full list – other mainstream vehicles such as the Nissan Micra and Rover 25 are impacted, too.

There is already some hope for owners of these E10-incompatible vehicles, as this issue may simply go away – at least temporarily. Faced with a similar predicament in 2013, the UK Government elected to preserve E5’s widespread availability and enshrine E0 as a ‘protected grade’ for historic and vintage vehicles. It’s hard to say whether a similar verdict will be reached this time, however.

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