July 5, 2001
By KOMO Staff @ komotv.com
BELLEVUE – If you drive a car and pay for your own gasoline, you can relate to getting as much gas as possible for your money.
So what about those products that claim to increase fuel efficiency?
That’s what KOMO 4 News viewer Amandeep Saini of south King County wanted to know after coming across a variety of gas-saving products advertised over the Internet.
He e-mailed consumer reporter Connie Thompson, who spent the last month putting them to the test for a Buyer Beware close-up.
$33, $87, $108
Thompson placed an order for an oil additive and metal conditioner that promotes better fuel economy. Cost: $33.
She also ordered an air swirl device for the air hose — $87 with shipping and handling.
And a set of magnets that go on the fuel line came to $108 with shipping and handling.
We started our test June 4, enlisting the help of the service technicians at AAA Washington headquarters in Bellevue. Their three Ford Rangers put on a lot of miles and are regularly maintained.
Documenting Baseline Mileage
Automotive Services manager Don Beyer has 35 years experience as an auto technician.
“We’re gonna start documenting the fuel mileage that we’re actually getting right now,” Beyer said before the tests started. “We have a very good mix of city and highway driving on these vehicles. And then we’re going to install some of these devices to see what kind of difference that makes for us.”
When you’re testing your mileage, you need to start with a full tank of gas and log your mileage for at least three or four full tanks to get a reliable reading.
After two weeks, each of the Rangers had gone through between three and six tanks of gasoline. That’s enough to get a good fuel efficiency reading before adding the additive and installing the so-called gas-saving devices.
“It currently is ranged from about the high 14 miles per gallon to the high 19 miles per gallon per vehicle,” said Beyer.
Here are the actual numbers: The 1997 Ranger averaged 14.87 mpg, the 1999 Ranger got 18.45 mpg and the 2001 model Ranger averaged 20.13 mpg. These are the results of the AAA test to establish a baseline, the beginning number we need for comparison.
Better Performance, Better Fuel Economy
Triple A installed the air swirl device in the ’97 Ranger.
In theory, when this cylindrical piece of sliced steel sits in the air intake hose, it swirls the air, creating more of an airflow in the combustion process. In short, a better fuel-air mix means better performance and better fuel economy.
The ’99 Ranger got the oil additive, which supposedly treats the metal and cuts down on the amount of friction in the engine. That means the engine doesn’t have to work as hard, and more horsepower means increased fuel economy.
The magnets went on the newest Ranger, the 2001 model. They’re supposed to create a magnetic field for the fuel to pass through, to break up the molecules of the fuel and better atomize the fuel mixture. Better combustion means better performance and better fuel economy.
A Wash And A Decrease
The ’97 Ranger traveled 949 miles and averaged 14.96 miles to the gallon — that’s only nine hundredths miles per gallon better than before the air swirl was installed.
The ’99 Ranger went about 220 miles and actually showed a decrease in fuel economy. The mileage after adding the oil additive was 17.28 miles a gallon. But that’s almost 1.2 miles a gallon less than before the additive was introduced.
Beyer acknowledged this product didn’t get a true sampling like the others. Since new oil and oil filter were required first, the additive got a later start in our mileage test.
He also says oil additives can improve performance with time, so we’ll continue to test this one.
$386 In Savings
Finally, the 2001 Ranger went 640 miles and did show an increase in fuel economy of seven-tenths of a mile per gallon.
The fuel economy with the magnets was 20.81 mpg, compared to 20.13 mpg before the magnets were installed.
“Over, say a 150,000-mile life expectancy of the vehicle, that would save you approximately 230 gallons,” said Beyer. “At today’s price for regular unleaded, that’s $386.”
Of course, that’s after an investment of $108 — and do you plan to to keep your car for 150,000 miles?
Jury’s Out On Additive
It’s important to note that none of the products we tested focus solely on fuel economy. They also address performance, power and even emissions.
But where fuel is concerned, the magnets delivered some improvement and the air swirl was a wash. The jury’s out on the additive until it gets more time on the road.
In fact, to be extra fair we’ll continue testing all three products, and compare the mileage again at the end of the month.
What About Other Ones?
The auto technicians at AAA Washington say when you see promotions that promise to improve your gas mileage, find out about the research to back the claims.
Ask for the name of the institution or organization that conducted the tests, and contact that organization. Find out more about the testing process and ask to see actual summaries of the tests.
Before installing any device, contact a qualified, reputable auto technician who’s familiar with your vehicle model and get his input on whether the device would be appropriate for your vehicle.
According to Beyer, oil additives are one item that have tended to improve performance over time. While this does apply to all additives, it does not mean they all necessarily improve mileage. In some cases, the primary benefits are better horsepower, better performance and cleaner emissions.
Other points to remember:
Auto experts say statistically, any improvement less than one full mile per gallon is considered insignificant.
Devices and additives perform differently on different cars. The results you see on one vehicle will not necessarily be duplicated on another.
When comparing the difference in fuel efficiency, start with a full tank of gas and go track the mileage for at least three to four tanks to get a baseline reading before you install a device.
Before buying a device, calculate how much savings you would need to get in order for the device to pay for itself within a year. Then ask yourself if you are willing to spend the money to essentially experiment to find out if you can get that savings.
For more information on fuel-saving products go to www.ftc.gov