The Truth About Fuel Additives

fueladditivesThere is certainly no shortage of fuel additives on the market today! Most promise better fuel economy to longer engine life and everything in between, but do they really work as advertised or are they the automotive equivalent of snake oil?

The answer to that question is actually a little more complicated than just a simple yes or no. We can understand why people would want to believe that these products work like a charm. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pour an additive into your gas tank and significantly increase your car’s gas mileage? Or pop a pill in with your next oil change and make your entire engine like factory-new again? Of course it would, but the reality is that fuel additives are almost always over-promised and under-delivered – which may not only be a waste of money, but could be damaging to your vehicle as well.

Part of the reason that so many of these after-market additives are ineffective is because most modern engines are controlled by the vehicle’s on-board computer. That computer relies completely on sensors to adjust engine functions, including fuel delivery, ignition timing and when the intake and exhaust valves open and close. Older vehicles, especially those that run on a carburetor rather than a fuel injection system, may see some increase in fuel economy, but that is probably due to an already decreased fuel economy (more on that in minute).

For computer-controlled engines, auto manufacturers program vehicles’ computers to have the most optimal fuel economy with pure gasoline in the tank. Mileage-boosting fuel additives claim to increase the combustion efficiency of gasoline by adding unaccounted-for chemicals to the engine’s fuel. Change the chemistry, and you may actually find a decrease in both performance and miles-per-gallon (mpg).

Now, that’s not to say that all fuel additives are completely useless. Carburetor and fuel injection cleaners, which work to eliminate residue, dirt, and rust from the gas tank that can clog up and slow down the fuel injection systems, have been known to improve fuel economy in vehicles that are suffering from a decrease due to this clogging.

Although many products out there use glowing testimonials from customers, there isn’t much truth to their claims. You might even be saying to yourself, “I’ve used fuel additives in the past and really had positive results.” More than likely, though, any actual changes in mileage after using mpg-enhancing additives are more likely due to a change in driving style than to the effects of the additive. A strong subconscious motivation to justify the expense of these additives can make a driver pay more attention to driving efficiently, which is where the actual results are likely coming from.

The bottom line is this: use fuel additives with caution, knowing that they may have little to no effect on the fuel economy or engine life of your vehicle and are therefore a waste of money; however, they could be causing damage to your engine. Your best bet in increasing fuel economy is to be more conscientious while driving.

Have you tried a fuel additive in your vehicle in the past? What effects, if any, did you notice? Let us know in the comments section below. Thanks for your input!