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Mythbusters: Fleet Edition

May 2010, by Tariq Kamal - Also by this author

Windsor Police Force’s Sgt. William R. Hunt Jr. presented “Mythbusters: The Snake Oil Saga” to a packed room of fellow fleet professionals at NAFA’s 2010 Institute & Expo.

It's easy to be tempted by claims that an additive can improve gas mileage or that changing certain parts more frequently will reduce engine wear. But is there hard evidence to back those claims?

Sgt. William R. Hunt Jr., manager of fleet and logistics for the Windsor Police Force in Ontario, Canada, presented "Mythbusters: The Snake Oil Saga," at NAFA's 2010 Institute & Expo. His presentation marked the culmination of two years' worth of research and experimentation. His objective was to determine the validity of popularly held beliefs about products that purportedly boost fuel economy or diminish it.

Hunt called on two professors from the mechanical engineering department at the University of Windsor to oversee the lab work. Two Ford-certified Master Technicians employed by the Windsor Police Force drove more than 60,000 test miles in three vehicles: a 2000 4.8L V-8 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor with 117,000 miles on the odometer and two 2005 Chrysler Sebrings with 65,000 miles and 41,000 miles, respectively, on their 2.7L V-6s.

Claim: Full Synthetic Motor Oil Will Increase Fuel Economy

Conclusion: Myth

Test Results: The Sebring with 65,000 miles covered 23.19 miles per gallon on conventional 5W-30 motor oil and 22.74 mpg on a full synthetic motor oil of the same grade - a decrease of 1.97 percent.

Notes: This is one case in which the oil maker's claims don't necessarily match the myth in question. Rather, the company that produces the full synthetic simply states that switching from mineral blends to a full synthetic can extend oil life - a claim that Hunt's scientists were able to confirm in lab tests.

Claim: Oil and Fuel Additives Will Increase Fuel Economy

Conclusion: Myth

Test Results: Running on the same conventional 5W-30, the team calculated a base mpg of 23.97 for the Sebring with 41,000 miles. The techs added the prescribed amount of a popular oil and fuel treatment but found no discernable gain in mileage, despite manufacturer claims to the contrary.

Notes: The manufacturer's pitch seems to focus on better fuel economy rather than the more verifiable benefit of reduced engine wear. If you're wondering why, don't ask Hunt. "It does extend engine life, but this was not part of the parameters," he says. "I would have been very happy if they had promoted that instead."

Claim: Performance-Type Air Filters Will Improve Fuel Economy

Conclusion: Myth

Test Results: The Crown Vic logged 18.49 mpg with a factory-grade air filter. After replacing it with a leading performance-type aftermarket filter, the team found the big V-8's mileage had improved to only 18.5 mpg.

Notes: Hunt praised the filter manufacturer's marketing copy, which wisely relies more on personal testi-monials than actual claims. On the company's Web site, one customer reports a 6 percent improvement in the fuel economy of his light-duty pickup.

Claim: Fuel-Line Catalysts Will Increase Fuel Economy

Conclusion: Myth

Test Results: Much like the aftermarket air filter, equipping the Crown Vic with a fuel-line catalyst resulted in a less-than-negligible gain in fuel economy: 18.52 mpg with the catalyst against the 18.49 mpg baseline.

Notes: The catalyst tested is, for all intents and purposes, one or more hunks of metal alloy that are dropped into the gas tank or fuel line and left there, supposedly, to boost oxidation. Unlike the products tested in the first three myths, the manufacturer's Web site clearly states that adding the catalyst will result in an increase of at least one mile per gallon.

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