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  • Do Fuel and Oil Additives Really Work?

    Firstly, we really need to understand what is meant by “work” as there are conflicting ideas and interpretations. Some would consider “work” as improve performance or increase mpg, whereas others would consider “work” as clean the fuel system, restore fuel injector efficiency or reduce friction. Others would consider a product to have “worked” if it resolved an underlying problem, such as resolves engine hesitation, restored lost performance or reduced excessive emissions.

    So which is correct? Firstly you need to understand how additives work and what they really do:

    Fuel additives directly deliver one or more of the following:
    1. Clean the fuel system and restore injector efficiency
    2. Remove combustion deposits
    3. Help clean emissions control system components
    4. Lubricate the fuel system and combustion area
    5. Protect against chemical or biological contamination
    6. Preserve fuel and offer cold weather protection
    7. Improve the quality of combustion (catalyst)
    8. And so on.

    The above direct actions then, may or may not result in:
    1. Increase in power and torque
    2. Increase in fuel economy
    3. Smoother running engine
    4. Smoother idle
    5. Reduced exhaust emissions
    6. Less mechanical vibration or noise
    7. And so on.

    Can you see the difference? The point I am making here is that an increase in performance or mpg are normally the resultant benefits of cleaning a fuel system, engine or reducing friction. They should not always be considered as the direct aims of fuel or oil additives. The usual goal of additives is to rid the fuel system and combustion area of deposits and thus from these actions, restore any lost performance or MPG. Further combustion modification (catalysts) can then improve MPG further.

    We often see the expectations with additives mismanaged. If a vehicle was achieving an expected and realistic 50 mpg, one would then be disappointed to discover when they purchased and used a fuel cleaner that the MPG didn’t improve, if they had actually purchased the cleaner with the purpose of improving MPG. There has to be a degradation of fuel economy in the first place. To improve MPG up and above what the engine is designed to deliver on standard pump fuel you need to use additives that are actually designed to improve combustion and thus maximise the energy output of the base fuel, not a cleaner.

    Therefore, to remove any confusion, most fuel additive cleaners do not directly increase economy or performance. The poor cleaners actually do very little whereas the high quality chemistries remove debilitating deposits and thus restore fuel system and combustion efficiency. This may or may not then result in an increase in fuel economy or engine performance. It really depends on what you started out with. Highly quality additives with effective fuel catalyst technology can then marginally increase MPG over standard figures, depending on the quality of base fuel being used.

    Symptoms can also be mechanically related. A user may inadvertently use a cleaner or additive to resolve what is in fact a mechanical or electrical issue. This is not necessarily a bad thing as additives can be used as a low-cost process of elimination. However, when using additives to resolve problems it is important to understand the symptoms and thus the probability of these symptoms being resolved through “chemical” means. Additives are not mechanics in a can.

    Furthermore, a successful cleaning cycle does not automatically result in a smoother, more performant or more economical engine. Different engine designs respond to deposits in different ways.

    Many cleaners (not all) work by restoring performance and MPG. Time and time again we see customers purchasing one-shot cleaners to improve MPG on an engine that is running well and achieving the expected MPG with the hope that it would magically improve fuel economy. Now, if you purchased the cleaner to maintain a clean system then this is valid but we see the expectations of many customers mismanaged when it comes to what they were expecting, versus what they should reasonably expect, versus what products really do and how this translates into discernible improvements to their vehicle.

    The best advice we can give is for you to understand your own requirements and goals with respect to fuel, fuel additives and lubricants. Don’t purchase additives on a whim or hope that they may fortuitously effect some change as this is a sure fire way to disappointment. Work out what you are trying to achieve: rectify a running issue, protect the fuel system or engine, maintain a clean running system to prevent future problems, reduce wear, increase power, improve fuel economy, improve the quality of fuel or many of these combined etc. Then complete your own research and/or consult with a professional to match the correct products for you needs with an understanding on what the products actually do and how this translates into measurable results for you.

    To summarise, there are legitimate circumstances when additives offer genuine benefits (when chosen correctly and matched to actual requirements,) and other times when they become a waste of money. They become a waste of money when users misunderstand what it is they are actually buying versus what they are trying to achieve.

    In the follow up article we are going to break this down further by revealing why results can be so inconsistent when using additives so that you can make an informed decision as to whether your vehicle will benefit or not from their use. We will also reveal some of the pitfalls, the concept of Negative versus Positive Gain and testing protocols so that you, a consumer, mechanic or fleet operator etc., can accurately measure your MPG improvements.

    Andy Archer


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