Does your car harbor a secret craving for ethanol? If you aren’t sure, you’re not alone. Though there are millions of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road, many owners aren’t aware they have one.

What’s a flex-fuel vehicle?

FFVs look just like regular vehicles, with one major difference: they can run on either gas or E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline).

Automakers began producing FFVs in 1988 after the Alternative Motor Fuels Act instituted credits for alternate fuel vehicle production. The first commercial FFVs were rolled out by Ford in 1996, and in 2006, the “Big 3” automakers (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) pledged to double their FFV production. FFVs are also available from many foreign manufacturers, including Audi, Nissan, VW, Mercedes, and Toyota.

Why would I want to use E85?

Generally, using ethanol blends like E85 leads to a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. For starters, CO2 is captured when ethanol crops are grown. And ethanol blends offer better combustion than gas, which means fewer pollutants are released. E85 can also help reduce our oil dependency. While it’s true you’ll get 25 to 30 percent fewer miles per gallon with E85, you may get better power and performance.

Approximately 95 percent of the ethanol produced in the U.S. is made from corn. As an alternative fuel, corn ethanol is not without controversy. But, it’s good to know you have a choice.

If you don’t have an FFV, however, using E85 is not recommended.

How do I know if there’s an FFV in my garage?

There are several ways to tell if your car is a flex-fuel vehicle:

Check the gas cap. Beginning in 2006, FFV manufacturers started putting distinctive yellow gas caps on their vehicles.

Check the fuel door. FFVs often have a sticker inside the fuel door that tells you which fuels can be used.

Go online. The U.S. Department of Energy has a searchable list of vehicles by type and model year.

Check for badges. Many models (especially recent ones) have a badge on the exterior that says FFV or Flex-Fuel.

Check your owner’s manual. If you do have an FFV, your owner’s manual will also tell you about any special parts or fluids your vehicle requires.

Yep, it’s an FFV. Now what?

Fill ‘er up … if you can find a station that sells E85. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were nearly 10 million FFVs on the road in 2011 but only 1 in 10 used E85. This is due, in part, to a lack of awareness, but it’s also because there are currently only 2,344 ethanol stations in the U.S. (with the highest concentration located, predictably, in the Corn Belt). Use this station locator to find a station near you.

Getting there


about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.