Tough Starting? Look Twice Where You Fill Up

gas cap with warning
The fuel cap on the Craftsman 37441 mower: E0-E10 Yes, E15-E85 No

Spring is the time to fuel up your outdoor power equipment—at least the products that run on gasoline. But even if you protected your gear last season by running out the fuel or mixing in fuel stabilizer, you could face trouble with what you add this season. It’s possible you’ll bring home the wrong gas.

That’s among the findings from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), the trade group for manufacturers of small engines and equipment, which commissions a study each year through The Harris Poll. The bottom line: Americans on average know even less than they used to about what fuel at the pump is appropriate for their gear.

Time was, pretty much any gasoline you saw at your local gas station would do fine in your lawn mower, generator, pressure washer, or handheld power tool. For background, that gas was a mix of ordinary fuel with roughly 10 percent ethanol (called E10), an alcohol made from corn. But starting in 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed gasoline with higher percentages of ethanol (with 15 percent, E15, or higher) to be sold through the same gas pumps. It’s meant for newer cars…nothing smaller.

Gas-powered outdoor gear can do acceptably well with E10 fuel. But if you add fuel with higher percentages of ethanol, engines get funky. They run hotter. The ethanol draws in moisture, which can build up and separate in the tank, a process called phase separation, which lead to starting problems for many products. And they cause plastic and rubber parts (including fuel lines) to stiffen and clog.

You perhaps see the point of fueling up with only E10—or even E0, gas with no ethanol, which some states still allow. (You can also buy ethanol-free gas at home centers.) The trouble is that a rising percentage of respondents do not know the difference among the many variations at the pump.

When it comes to ethanol in gas, the cheapest fuel is typically the one with the most ethanol. That one is the absolute worst for your equipment, and the lower price is a prime reason for misfueling.

Sure, they can tell apart regular, premium and ultra; the higher the octane, the higher the cost. But when it comes to ethanol in gas, the cheapest fuel is typically the one with the most ethanol. That one is the absolute worst for your equipment, and the lower price is a prime reason for misfueling. Two-thirds of respondents, in fact, say they buy the cheapest gas whenever possible.

Food for Thought
Of the 2,000 adult respondents to OPEI’s poll, 11 percent use the wrong fuel in their power gear. That might not sound like many, but the 11 percent means 220 adults using the wrong fuel in perhaps several products they own—thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. The 11 percent also seems discouraging when you consider that in the poll for 2015, only 7 percent used the wrong fuel.

The study found, too, that Americans are more likely now than in past years to believe that any ethanol blend in gasoline whatsoever is safe for any gasoline-powered engine. A whopping 38 percent believe any blend will do, a gradual rise from 30 percent in 2015.

More findings:

  • Only a fifth of respondents say they notice pump markings indicating ethanol content when they buy gas, compared to 25 percent last year. Perhaps part of the reason: The EPA sticker warning that blends above E10 cannot legally go into lawn equipment and could cause damage is a fraction of the size of the myriad ads on the pump and the screen above. You can see it below.
  • Just over 40 percent admit they don’t look for any warnings at all when they’re fueling their car.
  • Maybe most troubling of all, more than half of those polled (51 percent) fill up their portable gas can with the same fuel they use to fill their vehicle.

The good news for a responsive federal government to heed: Consumers are taking notice. Roughly two-thirds of those polled believe ethanol-free gas should be more widely available at filling stations.

“What goes in your car or truck may not be safe to put in your lawn mower, and consumers are not paying attention and making unintended mistakes,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI. “Yet pump labeling and consumer education are inadequate. As ethanol continues to be subsidized [by the government], more stations sell it. We’re concerned about consumer safety and choice.”

Fortunately for the alert, the fuel pump isn’t the only source for warnings about what to use in your power gear. Everything from the smallest gas-powered handhelds to the largest lawn tractors carry multiple warnings upon purchase. Even if you throw away the owner’s manual and all the tags, you’ll see one indication that doesn’t go away: a notice on the gas cap to use no blend higher than E10.

Ignore it at your equipment’s peril.

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Two Variations on a Pressure Washer Theme

Worx Hydroshot, Model WG629 / Credit: WorxSome cleaning jobs require more water and thrust than you’ll get from your garden hose—but less than a pressure washer would deliver. Others need a pressure washer’s power but in a broad fashion that won’t leave streaks or blotches. Both situations call for special equipment, and both Worx and Briggs & Stratton showed such specialty products at last week’s Green Industry and Equipment Expo.

WORX Hydroshot Portable Power Cleaner
Between your home’s 80-pound-per-square-inch (psi) flow and a pressure washer’s starting point of about 1,500 psi is a range that’s sometimes more appropriate for cleaning your car, boat, deck and patio furniture. The Worx Hydroshot Portable Power Cleaner , Model WG629 (above), has two speeds: one that tops off a bit higher than hose pressure, 58 to 94 psi, for watering shrubs and a beefier speed, 200 to 320 psi, for power cleaning. But these pressure ranges aren’t achieved with tapered nozzles like those you’ll see in some third-party accessories on HSN. This 3.7-pound product uses the same 20-volt MaxLithium battery used in several other Worx products for as much oomph as you need.

While you can connect a garden hose to the Hydroshot, the product can also take and filter water from a bucket or other source—if, for instance, you’re too far from a hose connection. Whatever setting, the product uses up about a half-gallon a minute. You can adjust the spray head to multiple patterns and widen or narrow it to 0-, 15-, 25- or 40-degree sprays. As those figures suggest, you could also attach a standard pressure-washer nozzle to the universal quick-connect.

The Hydroshot should be available next April for about $120 at Menard’s, Amazon and That price includes the 20-foot siphoning hose, lance, nozzle adapter, battery and five-hour charger. A brush and soap bottle will be extra-cost options.

Briggs & Stratton Rotating Surface Cleaners
Cleaning a wide surface with a pressure washer’s typical spray can sometimes leave streaks or various ugly blotches of less-clean surface area. Briggs & Stratton, which makes several residential and commercial pressure washers, first showed its Rotating Surface Cleaners at this year’s National Hardware Show, but the latest versions were on display last week at GIE+Expo.

Briggs & Stratton Rotating Surface Cleaners / Credit: Briggs & Stratton

The cleaner, in a 14-inch version for electric washers and a 16-inch for gas, attaches to the end of your pressure washer’s wand and looks like a deep frying pan, sans handle, upside down. Rather than going to the spray nozzle, the pressurized water goes to dual rotating spray arms inside the pan—like a dishwasher’s but pointed downward. These rapidly oscillate to clean a wide circular section at a time.

Should you be washing near flowers or anything else you’re worried about destroying, not to worry; the cleaner directs the water straight down, not outward. The latest models also come with an integrated detergent tank, which sits on top and drips cleaning agent to the high-pressure spray.

Briggs & Stratton recommends its Rotating Surface Cleaner for garage floors, driveways, decks and other horizontal surfaces you’d like to have a uniformly clean look. The 14-inch Model 6337, $40, is compatible with electric-powered pressure washers up to 2,000 psi. The 16-inch Model 6338, $75, is for gas-powered washers up to 3,200 psi. Both are on sale at Amazon.

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