Lawn Mower Blues:

A Greener Lawn Mower

Blog by Sue Schulte, Director of Communications

There’s a new riding lawnmower at our house. Old Red has been retired and has replaced by Big Yeller. We got Old Red ten years ago from my mother-in-law. The mower was already old. While Old Red’s owners changed ten years ago, one thing did not change—its fuel. Old Red has run its entire life on E10—fuel with 10% ethanol. Some people claim that you shouldn’t use E10 in small engines like lawnmowers. I’ll admit Old Red has plenty of problems but E10 fuel isn’t one of them.

  • It has an oil leak.
  • Its headlights don’t work and one is completely missing, giving Old Red the look of a pirate.
  • The right front tire goes flat between every mowing. The left rear tire has a slower leak.
  • The mowing deck is a little off-kilter, leaving behind a rather uneven cut in the grass.
  • The drive belt for the blade breaks often.

Old Red has run on E10 all its life. We leave the fuel in the fuel tank over winter, which is a big no-no for any kind of fuel. Yet, every spring, (after charging the battery–another problem) Old Red always starts up with a short puff of black smoke (from the aforementioned oil leak). When you look at Old Red’s many problems, you’ll find that none are caused by fuel. In fact, Old Red still runs—it just doesn’t mow, which is a big problem. Because the mower is so old, we were having trouble finding a replacement drive belt for the blade. Plus, we were due for a shiny new mower.

So now Big Yeller has arrived at our place. He’s a big burly lawn tractor. He’s shiny, and he’s yellow. He has headlights! He’s everything that Old Red is not. They do have one thing in common—they both run on E10 fuel.  In fact, I was happy to see that Cub Cadet said in its materials that it’s fine to use E10–that’s regular unleaded fuel. The manufacturer’s materials did warn against using E85, but that’s a fuel for flex fuel vehicles, not lawnmowers. Yes, I have a fancy lawnmower, but I don’t have to buy overpriced premium gas for it. It’s not a Ferrari!

Most fuel sold in the United States is E10 and is appropriate to use. E15 fuel is only for passenger vehicles (cars and pickups) model year 2001 and newer, which encompasses most of the vehicles on the road today. No, a lawn tractor is not a passenger vehicle, not even in my little town with a population of 299 people. So stick with regular E10 unleaded in your mower and motorcycles and boats. E85 is for use in Flex Fuel Vehicles that are designed to handle any combination of ethanol and gasoline up to 85 percent ethanol. You can get ethanol-free fuel but remember the oil companies are putting other chemicals in the fuel as oxygenates that aren’t nearly as safe or as clean as ethanol.

Our mower runs cleaner, thanks to the ethanol in the E10 fuel—the ethanol keeps the engine clean, and also has cleaner emissions. And when you look at the price of the “No Ethanol” premium gas, you know that my mower runs a lot cheaper as well. So I’m using a better fuel, at a lower price, and my lawnmower manufacturer agrees.

We will miss Old Red, but Big Yeller is a powerful, beautiful machine. I’m sure our shiny, new mower will give us a few problems over the years, but fuel won’t be one of them.

Check out this resource from the Renewable Fuels Association for more information about using ethanol blended fuel in your small engine.