Aftermarket Fuel Additives: Are They Worth It?

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Aftermarket fuel additives promise much, but many are basically snake oil. Photo Credit: Benjamin Chun/Flickr|Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Aftermarket fuel additives promise much, but many are basically snake oil. Photo Credit: Benjamin Chun/Flickr|Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Go to any auto parts store and many gas stations, and you’ll see a huge number of aftermarket fuel additives. You may ask yourself, “how did I get this beautiful house?” as well as whether the additives are actually worth it.

Worth of fuel additives depends on what it purports to do

Aftermarket fuel additives are a popular automotive product, as a huge number of brands are offered that assert to do everything from cleaning the fuel system to improving economy or boosting horsepower. The worth of the additive corresponds to it’s purported aim; some are real products that can actually accomplish something for you and others are just a pig in a poke.

Besides, do you really think that if a bottle of chemical stuff made engines run more efficiently or make more ponies, that it wouldn’t already be sold by automakers or added to the gas you get at the pump?

Not on the level

Of all aftermarket fuel additives, fuel system cleaners are more likely to be on the level; everything else likely belongs in a cracker jack box. Take fuel efficiency for example: fuel economy is a product of a balance of factors. Engine displacement, fuel injection systems, the amount of the charge (meaning the amount of air/fuel mixture) that actually gets combusted, transmission gearing, amount of RPMs you are driving in and so forth.

In other words, fuel economy is a rather complex thing that takes a lot of things in balance to arrive at. A $5 bottle of…whatever…is not going to affect it at all.

Likewise, take purported horsepower boosters. Some things actually will boost horsepower. For instance, you can use higher octane gas. Higher octane – like 93 octane gas – will produce a few extra ponies, but not enough for you to notice a huge difference. Octane boosters ultimately aren’t going to do a whole lot even if they did work, and since fuel injection systems are so well regulated by computers, the ECU is going to compensate for it anyway and you’re better off just buying quality gas if you buy premium.

Next to godliness

If there are any aftermarket fuel additives that are going to have an actual effect, fuel system cleaners would be the one. According to articles on AutoGuide and Road and Track, these products have been around long enough to have a real track record.

Fuel system cleaner additives that are acutally worth it use a nitrogen-based detergent to clear out gunk and remove deposits from fuel injection and fuel intake systems. The typical agents are polyisobutene, polyisobutene amine and polyetheramine. The way they work is a lot like other detergents – they break down carbon deposits into smaller particles, which are flushed out of the engine through exhaust.

Polyetheramine, or PEA, is generally the compound found in the highest quality and high impact fuel system cleaners. 3M, a major manufacturer of these products, recommends at least one treatment per year. Newer vehicles that haven’t had a chance to build up the carbon deposits, will probably not benefit, but those with older vehicles will probably see an improvement.

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