Gasoline with higher concentrations of ethanol is causing major problems for boat engines.
Vic Winebarger and Mike Martinez, technicians at Boat Sales of Lake Wylie, said fuels with 10 percent ethanol already were causing problems for boats, and 15-percent ethanol fuels could be make things worse.
"It already is (a problem)," they said. "It is bad. We're eating up fuel lines already. It's making a mess."
Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy released results from two studies confirming the dangers of higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline for boat engines.
Two marine manufacturers, Volvo Penta and Mercury Marine, provided test engines and facilities for the studies. Results showed significant problems with outboard, stern drive and inboard engines, as well as severe damage to engine components and an increase in exhaust emissions.
"Current proposals by the ethanol industry to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline should seriously concern all boaters and owners of other small engine equipment," said Thom Dammrich, president of National Marine Manufacturers Association.
In February, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed up to 15 percent ethanol in gas sold at filling stations, up from 10 percent. The blend was approved for 2001 and newer model cars and trucks, but not boats, buses, delivery trucks and other large vehicles.
"When filling up at gas stations, boaters are used to pulling up to the pump and filling up the tow vehicle first, and then putting the same fuel nozzle into the boat," said Bob Adriance, BoatUS director of damage avoidance.
"If that happens with E15, it could be a big mistake."
David Walker at Tega Cay Auto and Marine works on cars and boats. He said he is seeing fuel system problems, but so far, he wouldn't say it's a result of high ethanol concentrations.
But Ted Lemmond of Lemmond's Marine at the Tega Cay Marina said the impact is unmistakable.
"We've had to do some engine rebuilds. It's going to continue being a problem," he said.
At the Lake Wylie Marina, "we have seen an increase in ethanol-related issues in many of the older outboards," said boating specialist Matt Sellhorst.
"The issues vary from varnishing or clogging the carburetor components, eating away the rubber fuel lines or gaskets and wreaking havoc on fuel pumps."
It's even leaving a residue, Lemmond said.
He sees a time when gas without ethanol may not be an option, but for now, the higher concentrations just aren't compatible with boats.
"The time's going to come when that's all you'll be able to use," Lemmond said of ethanol-rich gas. "I just don't know when that day's going to come."
At Boat Sales of Lake Wylie, service for fuel-related problems the past two years outpaced calls the previous six years.
Industry experts say the solvent can cause problems serious enough to strand boaters. Most warranties don't cover beyond 10 percent ethanol.
The recent studies looked at exhaust emissions, exhaust gas temperature, torque, power, barometric pressure, air temperature and fuel flow and compared E15 with gasoline free of ethanol.