Fair Warning: If you are a tree-hugging, leaf-licking, bunny-kissing, global-warming pencil-necked geek, this OP/ED article is not for you. Not because you won’t understand it. You could if you wanted to, but the moral compass you hold up to measure others is blocking your view.

The moral compass you hold up to measure others is blocking your view.

Yes, I am a conservative and no, I am not a right wing whack-job. I have documented credentials and experience to speak on the subject matter. Shortly before I decided to join the ranks as a starving automotive journalist, my occupation was a California-registered environmental assessor. That’s correct, I was certified by the state as an environmental professional. An expert in the field, if you will. Seeing the environmental regulatory system at work for several years, a move to a less praetorian field seemed to be a wise move for me. 

Little did I know that my new field would cross paths with my past experience on a daily basis. Let me explain how the government’s intervention is not only bad for the automotive enthusiasts but for the American public as well.

Methyl tertiary Butyl Ether (MtBE)

In an effort to eliminate the anti-knocking agent lead from gasoline, the federal government approved the use of oxygenates in fuel and banned the use of tetraethyl lead. Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MtBE) became the most popular anti-knock agent/octane booster approved and promoted by the federal government for use in unleaded gasoline primarily for its blending characteristics and low cost.

What happened in the case of MtBE is that public sources of drinking water were contaminated by the organic compound (and I use the classification organic for the leaf-lickers that are still reading this in hopes they realize that not everything labeled organic is good for you). Once the public water supply is determined to be contaminated and unusable, the public cries foul and looks for government assistance. Ironically, the government mandated the use of MtBE, which caused the drinking water problem. Court cases launched against gasoline refiners resulted in the common state argument that manufacturers “should have known better” dominated the case.

In an effort to relieve the gasoline refiners of the burden of clean up costs, the government decided to reimburse the gasoline companies clean up costs. To cover the costs, government agencies raised the taxes on gasoline to pay the gasoline refineries for the clean up effort. In short, you and I paid for the government’s poor decision to mandate oxygenates in gasoline. 

Cartoon from ~synthesis~

Zinc dithiophosphate (ZDDP)

ZDDP was added to lubricants (grease, gear oil, motor oil) as an anti-wear additive. It’s important to note that lubricants contained that less than 1% of this additive in their formulation. ZDDP was blamed for causing damage and shortened life spans of federally mandated catalytic converters in automobiles. As a reaction to public outcry for help with the catalytic converter failures, the federal government legislated reduced amounts of ZDDP in lubricant formulation. The resulting premature deaths of thousands upon thousands of flat-tappet camshafts due to the reduction of anti-wear additives are well documented.

It is also important to note that ZDDP compounds served as corrosion inhibitors and antioxidants. We may not have seen the entire damage done by the government’s reduction of ZDDP in lubrication yet. It’s a good bet that flat-tappet engines will live shorter lives and increasingly be more difficult to find.

For the consumers who experienced losses as their flat-tappet camshaft engines died, there was no government payoff. Tough cookie. We’re from the government and we are here to help.

Ethanol Blended Gasoline

No matter what anyone tells you, ethanol blended gas can wreck your engine. It’s a matter of percentage of ethanol in the blend that determines how much destruction is caused. Alcohol is corrosive and attracts moisture, that is a known fact, which causes damage to mechanical parts. 

The good news? Ethanol has a high octane rating that can be used productively on engines designed for ethanol use. The bad news? Ethanol has less energy content than gasoline or diesel, which causes a mileage drop as the percentage of alcohol content rises.

Growth Energy, the company that represents ethanol producers, has been a favorite of the federal government for years. This is simply a case of a lobby group getting what they petitioned for from the federal government. Meanwhile, smaller engines and vintage car engines are in jeopardy of the ill effects of E15 fuel.

Does it seems like a good idea to take corn and turn it into small engine damaging fuel? The price of corn as food stock goes up and the price of fuel and engine maintenance goes up. It’s a lose-lose situation. 

SAN: Protecting the Hobby!

What Can You Do? 

Support organizations like the SEMA Action Network (SAN). The SAN is a nationwide partnership between vehicle clubs, enthusiasts and members of the specialty auto parts industry who want to protect their hobby. Founded in 1997, the SAN was designed to help stamp out legislative threats to the automotive hobby and pass favorable laws. 

Taken directly from the SAN webpage: “The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), is a non-profit trade association composed of more than 6,800 member companies including manufacturers and distributors, representing the specialty equipment automotive industry. All combined, the markets add up to over $34 billion in retail business annually. On behalf of our industry, we are fighting to preserve the rights of enthusiasts to use and enjoy their vehicles.”

There are enough special interest groups working against you, the car enthusiast. Isn’t it about time that you joined a group that is working for you? 

It’s time we demanded that the government stop trying to help us. Their help is self-serving and it hurts too much to keep accepting this assistance.