Will 2008 Be the Year of Flex-Fuel?

They’ve been around for years (dating back to the mid-’90s), but 2008 may be the year flex-fuel vehicles break away from the herd and come into their own. Overshadowed in recent years by the arrival of hybrids and even hydrogen vehicles, flex-fuel vehicles are finally receiving a major push from automakers, who are trumpeting this mature technology, which helps reduce carbon-dioxide emissions simply by reducing the amount of gasoline cars consume.

A flex-fuel vehicle burns E85, an alternative fuel that’s a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. According to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, E85 burns cleaner than gasoline, and can improve vehicle performance, since it has a higher octane rating than gasoline. It’s also considered a renewable fuel, because ethanol is made from biomaterials such as corn. Using E85 also helps support the domestic agricultural industry.

Those are the basics, but drivers probably have two main questions about flex fuel: Which cars run on it, and where can you fuel up with E85 if you have a flex-fuel vehicle?

The surprising news is that a wide range of 2007 and 2008 cars will run on flex fuel, and in fact many drivers may already own cars that can run on E85 and not even know it. A car’s VIN contains a clue that can help you determine if your car will run on E85 (it’s the eighth digit), although it can be tricky to discover the VIN’s secret since different makers and models use different digits and letters to indicate a flex-fuel vehicle. It’s simpler just to check your owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website.

Volvo, for instance, offers five vehicles that will run on flex fuel, including the new C30 1.8 Flexifuel (picturered above), which runs on a 125-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Although it will be available only in Europe starting in January, it’s an indication of what’s possible for flex-fuel vehicles.

In the U.S., Ford, GM, and Chrysler have made investments in flex-fuel vehicles. The updated 2008 Chrysler Town and Country, for instance (pictured above), will be available with a 3.3-liter V6 flex-fuel engine, and GM and Ford both have cars (and websites) devoted to flex-fuel technology.

The final and most critical question – where can you fill up if you have a flex-fuel vehicle? The good news is that E85 is available in nearly all 50 states. Texas, for instance, has more than 30 E85 fueling stations. Check the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition’s website at www.e85refueling.com to find a station near you.

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