We’ve all heard stories of bootlegging cars runnin’ on straight shine, but are they myth? Fact? In the movie Lawless, the youngest of a trio of Tennessee brothers is hauling a load of shine in a Model A Ford when it runs out of gas. In the middle of the woods with revenuers out to get them, he and his partner-in-crime start pouring mason jars of moonshine straight into the gas tank. The Ford rattles to life and they make the rest of the trip into the city.
So…will a car really run on moonshine?
Yes – at least when blended with gasoline in the right ratio. After all, you might not realize this, but corn-based ethanol is just really pure corn-liquor, aka moonshine. Sure, it’s processed in a big factory somewhere, not in a copper still by Jim Tom, but the result is the same. Most modern vehicles will run just fine with 15-25% ethanol/moonshine in the tank, and flex-fuel vehicles (FFV’s) can run up to 85% ethanol (E85). In fact, the EPA allows regular gasoline to contain up to 10% ethanol. This is known as E10, which you probably know, but you might not know how common it is. In 2011, fully 9% of the gasoline consumed in the United States was actually ethanol. You know those signs at the pump that say: “this fuel may contain up to 10% ethanol.” Well, you might already be running on fancified moonshine, at least to the tune of 10%!
But could you run a car on 100% unblended, 190-proof moonshine?
Yes. Not optimally, and not long-term, and not in freezing temperatures, but it would most likely run. Ethanol’s energy content is about 33% less than gasoline, which would translate directly into power loss, but the fuel systems of modern cars can make the necessary adjustments in the air/fuel ratio to keep the engine running. What your vehicle wouldn’t be able to handle is the corrosion caused by high-potency hooch. Alcohol can degrade plastic, rubber, even metal – and it’s also water-absorbent. As you can imagine, this can lead to all sorts of problems – leaks, rust, corrosion – even when running E10. Imagine the issues with running unadulterated E100! The moonshine would eventually eat through the fuel system, and phase separation could keep your motor from cranking – especially in cold weather.
Can I make my own moonshine as a fuel additive, to save gas money and be more awesome?
Yes. You can distill your own ethanol to use as a fuel additive, and you do so with a still – just like a moonshiner of old. You will need a federal permit, and you’ll also need to add a poison to ensure you don’t go siphoning shots from your fuel tank as party tricks (or selling them). You can reportedly distill your own ethanol for about $.75 per gallon, and you can do it using corn, sugarcane, or even apples. Add 25% home-brewed ethanol to your $3.00 per gallon gas, and suddenly you can fill your tank for only $2.25 per gallon! The practice is gaining a lot of traction among doomsday preppers and survivalist communities as a viable gasoline alternative if TSHTF. Here’s a beginner’s guide to home-brewing ethanol on one of the big survivalist sites. You can buy a copper still for about $1500, or build your own for less than $1000.
Just be sure to get that permit. ATF agents have been learning to tell the difference between moonshine and ethanol, bootleggers and eco-shiners. Don’t go falling into the wrong category!