Some SoCal drivers may be able to fuel up for less amid high gas prices: E85 blended fuel

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- At certain gas stations, you might find some sticker shock, but in reverse. Can a price of $3.29 per gallon be real these days? Yes, but it's for E85, not gasoline.

"E85 is a blended fuel that has up to 85% ethanol in it," said Megan McKernan, manager of the AAA Automotive Research Center in Los Angeles.

E85 is made from corn, and its largest market is in the Midwest, where the corn is grown. I did a story on E85 14 years ago at the only station in Greater Los Angeles that sold it, Conserv Fuel in Brentwood. Today, its available at over 300 stations in California, dispensed alongside gasoline. But you need a special kind of vehicle to use it.

"Flex-fuel vehicles are built to be able to handle this blend of up to 85% ethanol," McKernan said. "It just depends on how the engine is manufactured."

Typically, from domestic brands, and often those models that are likely to end up in fleets. One word of caution: fuel economy will drop a bit using E85 instead of gasoline. But with such a wide price disparity today, it's well worth seeking it out if your vehicle can run on it.

Many flex-fuel vehicles that can run on E85 will have a special yellow fuel cap, and/or a label saying it's okay to use either, E85 or gasoline. If in doubt, check the owner's manual. And if your car or truck isn't designed to use the ethanol fuel, you do not want to. You could end up facing a huge repair bill.

"Don't just see that price and say 'oh great, I'm going to have a deal,' because it could cost you later. You could end up with engine damage," said AAA's Megan McKernan

We checked with some vehicle makers, and you just aren't likely to find many new E85-compatible models at dealerships in California. Mostly, they tend to be sold to large fleets here. Though there are a number of vehicles with the telltale yellow fuel cap that were built over the years. If you have one, and confirm that it's still E85 compatible, you might want to start looking for the special pumps with the yellow handles, and take advantage of what's now a significant bargain.

"Right now, when gas prices are so high, it might be more economical for you," noted McKernan. "Just realizing that you're going to get fewer miles for that tank."

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