EFI Is Revving Up in Outdoor Gear

Cub Cadet's XT2 LX42" EFI tractorElectronic fuel injection (EFI) has been a standard feature in cars since the last millennium, but if you want it standard in residential outdoor power equipment, you’ll have to wait a bit longer—which might be worth it. The carburetors in most gas-powered products are prone to fuel-related problems that EFI avoids. Better still, EFI is claimed to save up to 30 percent in fuel, and it extends the life of engines because it maintains the precise air/fuel ratio the engine needs. But outdoor gear’s commercial market can’t have all the fun, as some recent announcements demonstrate.

Kohler made news this month with two EFI engines intended for residential lawn tractors, in 25- and 27-horsepower versions. We should see it in riders next season. In the meantime, though, it’s already in two lawn tractors from MTD Products: the 42-inch Cub Cadet XT2 LX42″ EFI (photo above), $1,800 at Cub Cadet independent dealers, and the 46-inch Troy-Bilt XP 46-Inch FAB 13A9A1KN066, $1,900 at farm-supply and hardware chains. Both use the same 547cc engine and have hydrostatic transmissions.

Snowblowers are getting EFI, too. Ariens’ winter lineup, announced last week, includes two models with EFI engines: the $2,029 Ariens Platinum 24 SHO EFI, Model 921053 (with a 24-inch clearing width), and the $1,929 Ariens Deluxe 30 EFI, Model 921049 (30-inch). The Deluxe 30 EFI will sell at Home Depot and Ariens dealers; the Platinum 24 SHO EFI, dealers only. The company claims these models, owing to their Ariens AX EZ-Launch EFI engines, start more easily in extreme weather without variation in high or low altitudes.

The EFI-based Honda EU7000iS
Honda EU7000iS generator

Among generators, a pricey but solid choice is the Honda 7000iS, a 7,000-watt portable generator that, besides its EFI engine, uses inverter technology to vary engine speed according to the electrical load and also—best for the neighbors—run much more quietly than the usual portable. It costs about $4,500 at Home Depot and Honda dealers.

It’s too soon to know what else is in the lineup for EFI as manufacturers prepare announcements for the Green Industry and Equipment Expo, the industry’s trade show, held in Louisville every October. But with every new development, the premium in price for this important new feature can only come down.

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Ethanol in Your Fuel: Just Say No

Ethanol free fuel
TruFuel ethanol-free fuel at Home Depot

Gasoline with 15 percent ethanol (E15) has been offered for sale in America since mid-2012. But the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t addressed the question of how to keep the average joe from putting it into lawn mowers, generators and other outdoor power equipment.

It isn’t that the agency didn’t know that gasoline with higher than 10% ethanol was bad for small engines. The Department of Energy studied that very thing in a 2008 report (PDF), with a focus not only on vehicles but also outdoor gear, including pressure washers, leaf blowers, generators and string trimmers. Among problems the researchers found when using E15 or blends with even more ethanol:

  • A Honda generator idled erratically while running fuel with 20 percent ethanol (E20).
  • Three Weed Eater Featherlite leaf blowers running with fuels higher than E10 failed or would not idle.
  • A Stihl FS 90 string trimmer ran at such a high idle on E15 and E20 that its clutch engaged by itself.

With all machines tested, average exhaust temperatures rose proportionately to ethanol content. In other words, the more ethanol the fuel contained, the hotter these products ran.

None of this apparently swayed the EPA, which merely says that E15, by law, cannot be used in any engines other than those in cars model-year 2001 or later, except for those of flex-fuel vehicles. But unless you’re paying attention, richer ethanol blends than E10 are bound to make it into your gear eventually. Consider, for instance, a so-called blender pump—one pump used to deliver everything from E10 to E85, the level used in flex-fuel vehicles. Even if you chose E10 to fill up your gas can, if the customer before you bought E85, what remains in the hose will make it into your can, and ultimately into your mower, string trimmer or chainsaw.

But you don’t have to take it. Two options:

At the Pump
They’re not easy to find, but some gas stations do include ethanol-free fuel (called E0) as an option. Websites such as pure-gas.org and Buy Real Gas list stations that sell it. And if you live near any kind of seaport, you’ll find that gas stations serving boat owners tend to offer ethanol-free gas. In all cases, however, call first—and expect this fuel to cost more than you’re used to paying.

On the Shelf
It’s taken a few years, but it’s now hard to walk into a home center or Sears outdoor-gear department and not see multiple brands of canned ethanol-free fuel. Some is for handheld machines that require a 40:1 or 50:1 fuel-to-oil ratio; the gas includes both stabilizer and the right amount of oil for two-stroke engines. And some are for four-cycles engines like those found in mowers, snowblowers, and generators. (These products also include stabilizer.) One great feature: It lasts two years once opened. TruFuel might be the most common brand, though Sears sells it under the Craftsman brand. And most manufacturers now sell E0 in their own brands, such as Echo, Husqvarna and Stihl.

This fuel is even more expensive than marine fuel—a quart can typically costs about $6. But for a little perspective, don’t think about the national average retail price, $2.225 per gallon as of yesterday. Think instead of how much you pay for that wonderful new cold-brew coffee at Starbucks.

At an average $3.60 for a 16-ounce serving, it costs $7.20 per quart—not counting a tip for the barista—which is $1.20 more than the TruFuel. Sure, the coffee is bound to taste much better than a fluid that was never intended for human consumption. But your body can’t tell the difference between Starbucks and Maxwell House. Use only pure gasoline in well-maintained outdoor power gear, and it will thank you for years.

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