FlexFuel Dodge Caravan : Best Used Car for Uber XL?

I hailed an Uber when I was in Charlotte a while back. When the car arrived, I was surprised to see that it was a Dodge Caravan. 
The Uber driver explained that he bought his Caravan because Minivans are eligible for UberXL which can generate more revenue. He also wanted to provide the most comfortable and convenient ride for his customers.

Some Uber drivers will tell you that the Toyota Prius is the best car to use. But that’s largely because it’s so good on gas, not because it’s the best ride for their customers.

The Dodge Caravan and the new Chrysler Pacifica are Flex Fuel vehicles. They can run ethanol blends up to E85. Ethanol burns cleaner and is 100% domestic. Department of Energy (DOE) Research says an E30 blend – 30 percent ethanol – may deliver the optimal price/performance ratio.

This is a link to a PDF: Effects of High-Octane Ethanol Blends on Four Legacy Flex-Fuel Vehicles, and a Turbocharged GDI Vehicle – it’s an interesting bit of research from the DOE/Oak Ridge Laboratory.

I would not recommend buying a brand new vehicle to use for Uber or Lyft. The United States Government GSA auctions are a great place to pick up an older well-maintained low-mileage Caravan at a low price. The cars tend to sell in the neighborhood of typical dealer trade-in values. Late model Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Caravans are a good option, as well. CPO vehicles have come off lease, have taken their large initial depreciation hit, and are covered by factory warranties. You can find them at your local Dodge dealer.

Running E85 instead of conventional E10 gasoline will result in a significant drop in fuel efficiency. The cost of E85 varies by a considerable amount, largely dependent on location. If you’re close to the source (corn) – say in the Midwest – E85 will be a lot less expensive. In other states, the numbers won’t work. This is why the DOE research is important. It shows that an intermediate blend (like E30) can deliver cost benefits, without a huge drop in efficiency.

E30 has a much higher octane value than regular unleaded gasoline. It competes with premium gasoline on octane, but can be significantly less expensive at the pump … when you can find it. Naturally-aspirated engines like the Pentastar V6 (found in the Caravan and Pacifica) do not take full advantage of the added octane. Some automotive engineers are very keen on the idea of using E30 as Super Premium for forced-induction, direct-injected engines. Of course, the folks that profit from petroleum don’t like this idea.

The craziest aspect of ethanol is that you’re allowed to distill it yourself, with the proper permit from the US government. If you have access to an inexpensive source of sugar, you can make your own fuel for next to nothing.

Leave a Comment