Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

Fuel Savers or Money Wasters?

June 2006, by Alex Roman

As gas and oil hit ridiculous prices, fleets are looking for new ways to save money and conserve fuel. Are fuel-saving products the magical solution they’ve been searching for? You’ve seen the advertisements. A fuel-saving device or additive makes sweeping claims on how to improve your car’s engine, gas mileage and emissions. As gas prices continue their astronomical rise, the influx of products claiming to “increase gas mileage by up to 25 percent” seems to increase tenfold.At Business Fleet we’ve heard testimonials from product makers and satisfied customers. We’ve even featured a fuel-saving product or two in our “Hot Products” section. We also received a letter from one of our readers (Exhaust Jan/Feb 06) saying we were acting irresponsibly by giving our audience the impression that these “snake oil salesmen” were making credible claims.Many wonder that if these claims were true, then why wouldn’t every major auto manufacturer jump on board?Good question.We decided to investigate the industry of fuel-savers, from the sides of the product makers, test labs and auto industry. And we decided to find out for ourselves if these products really work.{+PAGEBREAK+}Weird Science
The products usually come in two forms: additives for the fuel or lubricating oil and mechanical devices attached to the engine or support systems.The “science” of how they work differs. Some products bleed air into the carburetor. Some hook onto the fuel line to either ionize the fuel, warm it or to change the molecular structure. Some are “mixture enhancers” that make modifications to the vehicle intake sys-tem or enhance the mixing or vaporization of the air/fuel mixture.Other types include ignition devices, accessory drive and driving habit modifiers, calibrated vacuum leaks, a sticker on the gas tank and even an “herbal supplement” pellet that gets dropped in the tank.These products, with names like Fuel Genie, The Tornado, POWERFUeL or Cyclone Z, are found everywhere, from the pages of consumer and business magazines, to infomercials and, of course, the Internet.Future Fuel Technologies
Fuel or oil additives are the most common. FFT Gasoline Blend from Future Fuel Technologies is a fuel additive that claims to use a unique blend of organic and proprietary manufactured chemicals to increase miles per gallon by 10 percent to 30 percent, improve engine performance and decrease pollutant discharge from internal combustion engines.“I found an entity that would make a combustion catalyst soluble in gasoline and diesel fuel to help burn the fuel in the cylinder or in the engine more efficiently,” says inventor Frank Norman.Norman, who has a degree in chemistry and has worked for major chemical companies throughout his career, began working in his home lab on the product in 1994. Norman says his knowledge of organic reactions and polymerization enabled him to know exactly what he needed to make his product work.“I searched the chemical databases and found a company that was manufacturing the product I needed,” says Norman. “They were able to provide me with about two inches of the product in a small test tube, and I began work with tiny bench quantities.”Due to a potential joint development deal, Norman will not reveal the “mystery ingredient” or the company that makes it. He will say that as far as he knows, he is the only person currently using the product for anything. The FuelMiser Magnet
Devices that use magnetic technology are attached on or near the fuel line and claim to change the molecular structure of gasoline. FuelMiser President Steve Sachs understands that most magnetic products do not live up to the their lofty claims. He says, however, that his product has finally perfected the technology.“All other products we have tested since 1996 either melt down completely or they lose 40 percent to 80 percent of their strength during heat testing,” says Sachs. “Even if the engine overheated, our product would only lose 12 percent, and we factored that into the way we put it together.”The FuelMiser utilizes “magneto hydrodynamic technology,” a science that has been around since the 1800’s. The FuelMiser causes both dispersion and energizing of the hydrocarbon molecules flowing through the fuel line, according to the company, which enables more molecules to combine with oxygen. The enhanced combustion is supposed to help burn fuel more efficiently. {+PAGEBREAK+}What the lab tests reveal
To sell “fuel extenders,” product makers must register with the Environmental Protection Agency. One step further, but not mandatory, is EPA-approved testing. The tests are expensive – $25,000 to $40,000 – and even though results could reveal gains in miles per gallon and performance, the EPA does not “approve” or “certify” the product. The EPA’s only goal is to ensure that the product will not harm the environment with increased emissions.“You can sell them even without proof that they actually have any benefit,” says Steve Mazor, manager of the Automotive Research Center for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “You just have to prove that it won’t hurt anything.” Mazor’s Automotive Research Center runs lab tests on fuel saving products for the EPA. The center also teams with The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) to test aftermarket “hop up” products, such as camshafts, headers and superchargers.He says his lab tests about five to 10 products a year, more when gas prices are high. Though Mazor says he hasn’t seen many products that actually harm the vehicles, he “almost uniformly doesn’t see any benefit” to any of the products that he’s tested in the last 10 years.Mazor adds that even a small increase – one percent to two percent – could be sufficient enough to say that a product works as long as valid and proven testing procedures, such as the EPA tests, were used.“Better fuel economy offers a major competitive advantage in the trucking, school bus and automobile industries,” says Dan Herman, who spent more than 30 years as an engineer involved with design and development of vehicles and engines. “If sticking a $5 magnet or adding an additive would really increase fuel economy significantly, don’t you think they’d do it?”Yes they would, says Pete Misangyi, Ford Motor Co.’s supervisor, Fuels and Lubricants Engineering, if the product was proven to work.“We can’t afford to test every guy that comes in the door saying, ‘Hey I’ve got something,’” he says. “If there is anything that might be of value, of course we’re interested because we have to leave the door open to something that may actually help.” On the flip side, Ford and Chevrolet state in their user’s manual that some fuel-saving products could void the manufacturer’s warranty if a problem with the vehicle develops. Currently, Misangyi says that Ford is pushing for its vehicle owners to use the suggested motor oil to increase fuel economy and keep the car running smoother.He adds that Ford chooses which “inventions” they look into carefully. “The way they say it was developed would pique my interest,” says Misangyi. “Our company investigates every possible way to squeak out 1/2 percent to 1 percent in improvements. So if someone says put this on and save 20 percent, you should be skeptical right off the bat.”{+PAGEBREAK+}Big Oil Conspiracy?
The makers of fuel saving products have other theories why auto manufacturers won’t endorse their products.“Oil companies’ prime concern is pumping gallons, not the efficient use of petroleum to make us less dependent on foreign oil,” says Arlene Norman, Frank’s wife.The “elimination of our dependence on foreign oil” claim has become part of most fuel-saving products’ marketing campaigns. The people who sell these products believe that oil conglomerates are responsible for the quashing of their products’ benefits to the general public. FuelMiser’s Steve Sachs has a slightly different theory.“Car manufacturers have a hard time accepting that a small company was able to perfect it,” he says. “Do you think that these guys really want to open up a can of worms when they’ve spent millions of dollars and didn’t get it to work?” Both Sachs and the Normans say that marketing their products has been an uphill battle from day one because of the litany of products that flood the market and because similar products have tried and failed before them.To help sway public opinion Fuel-Miser and FFT, as well as many other fuelsaving products, offer 100 percent satisfaction guarantees.Both the Normans and Sachs say that even if users contend their products don’t work, they rarely receive requests from purchasers for their money back.The Normans and Sachs are hardly the “snake oil salesmen” types. They do come across as genuine in their belief that its potential benefits are real. Mazor concurs. “I have found that many of these people who are trying to market these products are legitimate believers that their product does work,” he says. “They are not out there trying to rip us off. It may not actually work, but they believe it does.”Saving fuel in the real world
The fact that automakers struggle to increase fuel economy by even 1/2 percent is something to consider when thinking about purchasing a fuel saving product that makes eye-popping claims. Not even hybrids save 25 percent more fuel in the real world. Real world tips for saving fuel begin with some very mundane and oft-repeated suggestions:
    Use only the octane level of gas you need.
    Drive within posted speed limits using cruise control.
    Avoid unnecessary idling.
    Remove excess cargo weight from the vehicle.
    Maintain the vehicle: keep the engine tuned, keep tires properly inflated and aligned, get regular oil changes and check and replace filters regularly.
Perhaps it’s best to just maintain the upkeep of your vehicles rather than look for a “quick fix.”{+PAGEBREAK+}

Gauging the Results


We were curious, so we put two fuel saving products through a real-world driving test to see if they actually worked.The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used to formally test “fuel-saving” products for both fuel efficiency and emission levels. The EPA discontinued the program, known as the “511 Program,” as costs to test every product became prohibitive. In its place, the agency began a voluntary program – EPA Motor Vehicle Aftermarket Retrofit Device Evaluation Program – that allowed product-makers to have their products tested by an EPA-certified lab. The results are posted on a national registry on the EPA’s Web site (www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/reports.htm), but that’s it. The agency will still not endorse or certify that the product does what it actually claims to do even if it does it. The minimum cost for the test is about $27,000, paid by the product maker. Not surprisingly the number of products that sought EPA testing after the original program was discontinued has decreased significantly.{+PAGEBREAK+}HOW THE EPA TESTS
The EPA accepts only two types of tests: the Federal Test Procedure (FTP), a simulated drive trace used for emissions testing, and the Highway Fuel Economy Test (HFET), a simulated highway drive test for fuel economy calculation.Each product must be tested on two separate vehicles that are set to the manufacturer’s tune-up specifications for baseline tests. The vehicles are then tested on machines that simulate real-world driving conditions. Each vehicle is tested three times with and without the product. If the device requires adjustments to the timing, fuel-air mixture, choke or idle speed, then an additional triplicate test must be done after the adjustments.OUR TESTS
Business Fleet tested two products – the FuelMiser and FFT – to see if they really do provide the fuel savings they both claim.We drove two vehicles per product for a month with, and a month without the product to establish an average miles per gallon. We noted that these real world tests could not take into account important variables such as weather conditions, vehicle temperature and frequency of stops and accelerations. While admittedly very unscientific compared to lab testing, this procedure is similar to a test approved by the Society of Automotive Engineers. FUELMISER TEST
Utilizing “magneto hydrodynamic technology,” the FuelMiser is a magnetic device that clips onto the fuel line anywhere between the fuel filter and the engine. When the Miser is installed correctly it causes both dispersion and energizing of the hydrocarbon molecules flowing through the fuel line, which according to the company, enables a greater number of molecules to combine with oxygen. The enhanced combustion is supposed to cause more efficient burning of fuel for better mileage, reduced emissions and improved engine performance. The FuelMiser costs between $65-$95 depending on volume discounts. The company guarantees a 10-percent increase in fuel mileage or your money back. RESULTS:
We tested the FuelMiser on a Chevrolet S-10 pickup and a 2wd Ford Explorer. We drove the S-10 for two months and a combined 1,600 miles. The S-10 had a gain of 2 percent, or a half mile per gallon, significantly lower than the 10 percent money back guarantee. After 2,200 miles of combined driving the Explorer actually had a loss of 5.6 percent or roughly two miles per gallon. We could not test for emissions. Neither driver noticed any difference in vehicle performance. “Part of some of the challenge is if you have a higher mileage vehicle it has carbon and varnish build-up so it needs to go through a clean-out process before actual results can be seen,” explains FuelMiser’s Steve Sachs about the possible reasons for decreased miles per gallon. {+PAGEBREAK+}FFT TEST
Using a unique blend of organic and proprietary manufactured chemicals, FFT can be blended into the gasoline at either the storage tank or in the vehicle itself. The bottle comes with a side-measuring device that allows users to measure out the perfect dose, which is one ounce per 10 gallons. The makers claim that FFT increases gas mileage, improves engine performance and decreases pollutant discharge from internal combustion engines. Like FuelMiser, FFT guarantees customer satisfaction. The company says that the typical user can bank on an approximate fuel mileage savings of 15 percent. A 16-ounce bottle costs $19.95.RESULTS:
Using the same testing procedures we found similarly mixed results. Vehicle one – a Mazda 3 – actually lost 1.3 percent of its gas mileage, about half a mile per gallon. However, vehicle two – a Toyota Tacoma – saw the most positive result of either product with a gain of a whopping 10.4 percent, or just above an extra two miles per gallon. Neither driver noticed a difference in vehicle performance. “I’m happy with one, and I’m left scratching my head with the other,” says FFT’s Frank Norman about our results. “The main thing that could cause a vehicle to lose mileage would be if the O2 sensor is out. Ordinarily, though, my customers experience a 14 percent to 15 percent savings.”CONCLUSION
We theorized that most consumers and fleet customers have no access to such testing and, therefore, can only base their belief on whether a product works or not on their own perception. Both the makers of FFT and FuelMiser say that our tests could have been more accurate if we had driven between 1,500-2,500 miles with the products installed before we started measuring (to allow time for the excess gunk and grime to burn away.)Frank Norman and Steve Sachs discounted our results, because they say inconclusive tests are part and parcel for their industry. They also both agree that without the ability to bankroll the EPA-certified tests, they are left with only users’ perceptions of how the product affects their vehicle.In 2003 The Federal Trade Commission released a report listing fuel-saving devices tested by the Environmental Protection Agency for exhaust emissions and fuel efficiency gains. Overall, the EPA tested hundreds of devices. However, less than three years later we could not find information on more than half of these products, suggesting they were no longer available on the market. The list below outlines the types of devices tested and the EPA’s determination on their effectiveness. Some of the devices tested in these categories indicated a very small improvement in fuel economy, but with an increase in exhaust emissions. Installation of these devices could be considered illegal tampering, according to federal regulations.
    Air Bleed Devices: Usually installed in the Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) line or as a replacement for idle-mixture screws, these devices bleed air into the air/fuel mixture after it leaves the carburetor.Liquid Injection: Adds liquid into the fuel/air intake system and not directly into the combustion chamber.Internal Engine Modifications: Devices that make physical or mechanical function changes to the engine. Some devices below saw a very small improvement in fuel economy without an increase in exhaust emissions. Accessory Drive Modifiers: Reduce power to specific auto accessories in order to increase horsepower.Driving Habit Modifiers: Light or sound devices that tell the driver to reduce acceleration or to shift gears.Tested devices below saw neither an increase in fuel economy nor exhaust emissions.Vapor Bleed Devices: Similar to air bleed devices except that inducted air is bubbled through a water-anti-freeze material usually contained in a bottle or jar located in the engine compartment.Ignition Devices: Devices attached to the ignition system in addition to or as a replacement of original equipment parts.Fuel Line Devices (heaters or coolers): Heats the fuel before it enters the carburetor. The fuel is usually heated by the engine coolant, exhaust or electrically.Fuel Line Devices (magnets, metallic): Magnetic devices, such as the FuelMiser, are clamped to the outside of the fuel line or installed in the fuel line to change the molecular structure of gasoline. Metallic devices contain dissimilar metals that are installed in the fuel line and are supposed to cause ionization of the fuel.Mixture Enhancers: Mounted between the carburetor and intake manifold, mixture enhancers claim to mix or vaporize the air/fuel mixture. Fuel and Oil additives: Usually liquids, these products are added to the gas tank or poured into the crankcase to promote better lubrication and/or fuel mileage.
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