How CAFE Standards Impact OEM Flex Fuel Performance
January 22, 2018
In our last blog post, we took a broad look at the problems with OEM implementation of E85 and flex fuel tuning. This week, we're going to get deeper and specifically look at why these problems exist. We know that the main reason that OEMs implement basic E85 functionality is because of government standards. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations from the mid-1970s created an incentive for manufacturers to have vehicles run on alternative fuels. But these regulations never specified how well the vehicles needed to use alternative fuels, or how practical it would need to be. As long as the flex fuel capability was present in their cars, even though it worked poorly, and no one used it, OEMs could reap the benefits and inflate the average fuel economy of their model range to meet regulations. But why would OEMs go through all the effort to engineer a way for their vehicles to run on alternative fuels if they were going to do it poorly? The answer is cost. Every vehicle manufacturer is sensitive to even the smallest costs when designing and building cars. Even a few dollars extra in parts cost can add up to millions over the manufacturing run of a model. Now imagine if they could save a few hundred dollars by not installing the parts needed for proper E85 and flex fuel usability. Even if the outcome is far less than ideal, you can bet they will always choose the savings. On most vehicles that are advertised as "flex fuel capable" what exists is a sort of guessing game within the vehicle’s engine management software. For an engine to burn fuel efficiently it needs to be tuned with specific values to match the grade of fuel you intend to use. Since gasoline usually varies only slightly between tanks, the engine management can safely assume it knows what is being pumped into the engine through the fuel injectors and only minimal reactionary adjustments to the fuel trim are needed. But if you fill up your tank with E85 and your engine management is expecting gasoline it can result in expensive engine damage because the parameters used for burning gasoline can lead to unpredictable combustion of ethanol. The best solution to this problem, and the one we employ here at Advanced Fuel Dynamics, is to measure the ethanol content BEFORE it gets to your engine so that you can use the correct parameters for your chosen fuel. But the cost of an ethanol fuel sensor quickly adds up when scaled to millions of vehicles. To get around this, most OEMs use the oxygen sensors that already exist in the vehicle to measure the emissions coming through the exhaust to determine how the engine is running. The engine management then reacts to the lean or rich conditions it is receiving and begins adjusting the fuel trims over a long period of time. There's no extra cost for additional sensors because it is the same method that already allows the engine management system to compensate for slight variations in gasoline, but it allows the engine a much larger range of adjustment. Because this system only works over the long term, though, most vehicles will be down on power and will lack even mildly acceptable performance until almost halfway or more through a tank of E85. And because of the huge inconsistencies in E85 from the pump, the process will repeat for each tank. Additionally, the ethanol fuel tables within the factory engine management software in most vehicles lack the resolution needed to see optimal performance gains since they are based upon meeting emissions standards and not performance optimization. This means that even cars that can accept a sensor being added in to the system cannot take full advantage of the performance or safety of varying fuel blends. Adding proper tuning even with a proper fuel sensor for E85 alongside gasoline would cost the OEM more money for no financial return. And because time is money, OEMs make do with the bare minimum to make sure their vehicles run on E85. This way they can improve their average fuel economy ratings, avoid a government penalty, and keep their price of their vehicle the same. Properly retrofitting your vehicle to run on E85 is more than just adding an ethanol content sensor into the fuel line feeding the injectors. Even if your vehicle was equipped from the manufacturer with flex fuel capability, it's certain that the tuning is not able to take full advantage of the performance benefits that ethanol provides. Our PROFLEX Commander system is a complete plug-and-play E85 flex fuel system that proactively makes fine adjusts in real time based on the ethanol content of the fuel in your tank. Our system is proven to give your car the most power possible no matter your blend. So why settle? Pick up a PROFLEX Commander today.