Are fuel additives worth your time and money?

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A mad scientist contemplates his latest chemical brew with no doubt maniacal glee. Whether the mix is one of many fuel additives that promise to clean your engine and expand your car's fuel efficiency is unclear.

Are fuel additives magic elixirs for your car's MPG, or are they closer to snake oil? (Photo: ThinkStock)

There is a significant market for after-market automotive fuel additives, but there are varying opinions as to whether such products are necessary. When one considers that most modern gasoline possesses detergents and other additives to help clean away engine deposits, spending extra money on additional fuel additives may seem less than essential. The online knowledge base Answer Bag sums up the general consensus on fuel additive validity. For every person who swears by the products that you add to the fuel tank, there are several others who suggest that fuel additives are unnecessary.

What fuel additives claim to accomplish versus the reality

Fuel additives claim that they clean deposits from your car’s intake and fuel injection systems. However, any MPG boosts tend to be minimal; they simply get your car back to where it’s supposed to be in the first place in terms of miles per gallon. Using the proper octane rating in your gasoline and keeping up with general maintenance achieve the same effect. Octane-enhancer solutions, pills, magnets, additional filters and more may sound scientifically sound, but the biggest gain to vehicle performance may actually come from that newfound lightness in your wallet after purchasing such products, suggests Stason.org.

Don’t believe your gasoline can do the job?

According to various sources, a typical modern gasoline can contain any number of the following fuel additives, already in the mix:

  • Antioxidants – To prevent oxidation
  • Metal deactivators – To inhibit copper, which can rapidly promote oxidation
  • Corrosion inhibitors – To prevent corrosion caused by water condensation
  • Anti-icing additives – Because frozen fuel doesn’t burn
  • Anti-wear additives – To lessen wear and tear on cylinders and pistons
  • Deposit-modifying additives – To change the composition of engine deposits for easier disposal

Don’t confuse your oxygen sensor

Your engine’s oxygen sensor (originally called a “Lambda Sensor” when they first appeared in European fuel-injected vehicles) is intended to monitor the fuel-oxygen mixture so that emissions are properly regulated. Fuel additives can change the expected exhaust gas composition and effectively confuse the sensor. If the oxygen sensor goes dead, your vehicle will burn much more gas (the opposite of the desired effect from fuel additives) and eventually damage the catalytic converter. That amounts to major repair dollars.

And you don’t want to think about repairs if you’re still paying off your auto loans!

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Sources:

Answer Bag

Wikipedia

Stason.org

AutohausAZ

A crash course in what some fuel additives claim:

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