Niagara Gazette

May 16, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: A little bit of automotive alchemy

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The word alchemy is defined as “medieval chemistry.” A survey of synonyms of the word reveals such entries as: Conjuring, enchantment, hocus-pocus, impossible feats by tricks, and abracadabra ... all perfect words to describe the subject of this article.

As the economy has plummeted and the recovery has stagnated, it seems that certain companies within the automotive arena are on the rise. They develop and sell formulas that claim to solve various mechanical problems such as engine knocks, transmission slippage, and oil consumption. Some even claim that their products will enable your car’s engine to harmlessly run without oil! These companies prey on the needs and ignorance of the public in order to “make a quick buck and get outta’ town.” Let’s shine some light onto these product claims and expose them, so you don’t waste your hard-earned money on such foolishness.

FUEL MILEAGE ENHANCERS: Many products have been “developed” to improve fuel mileage by 20 percent or more. All the consumer has to do is drop the stuff into the fuel tank. Most of these products show little or no results. In cases where there are positive results, they are far from the projected fuel savings claimed by these snake oil salesmen.

What does the EPA have to say about it? They has evaluated the following fuel additives: Bycosin, EI-5 Fuel Additive, Fuelon Power, Johnson Fuel Additive, NRG #1 Fuel Additive, QEI 400 Fuel Additive, Rolfite Upgrade Fuel Additive, Sta-Power Fuel Additive Stargas Fuel Additive, SYNeRGy-1, Technol G Fuel Additive, ULX-15/ULX-15D, Vareb 10 Fuel Additive, XRG #1 Fuel Additive, and others. The EPA found absolutely NO improvement in fuel mileage.

FUEL SYSTEM CLEANERS: There are many fuel system cleaners on the market that claim they clean your fuel system of deposits and carbon buildup by simply adding the product to the fuel tank. Do they? First, let’s take a closer look at the nature of these deposits.

The deposits that build up on the inside of the fuel delivery system are the result of varnish deposits from fuel flow. These tough deposits can only be removed by applying equally tough, aggressive cleaning agents (much tougher than those found in spray cans for a few bucks). Carbon buildup is the result of unburned gasoline that forms a rock-hard deposit on the inside of the engine where fuel flows. As more gasoline soaks into the carbon and combustion fire hardens it, the more difficult it is to remove from the inside of the engine. The only way to remove such buildup is to soak it with industrial grade cleaners in order to dissolve it and blow it out the tail pipe. Again, such chemical strength is not found in a cheap spray can. Only a professional fuel system cleaning can clean fuel delivery systems effectively. During a professional fuel delivery/carbon cleaning, an industrial grade cleaner is injected into the fuel system through the fuel rail or intake manifold while the engine is running. This process cleans the rail, intake plenum, injectors, valves, cylinder head/s and piston tops. Then a high grade cleaner is added to the fuel tank to clean the fuel lines, pickup assembly, screen, and pump.

ENGINE OIL ADDITIVES: Years ago I “slapped the gauntlet” to companies that produce lubricant enhancers. My challenge? Present to me solid, scientific proof that their elixirs really do lengthen the life of an internal combustion engine. What do I get? Countless testimonial letters from people who claim they have run their engines dry of oil. Then, in response to an article I wrote for PC World, I got an email from a reader who suggested I view a website that offers scientific proof. Not surprising the site presented more personal testimonies reminiscent of late night infomercial programming.

It seems that everyone is looking for the magic elixir, the “Engine Extender,” the “Fountain of Youth,” the “Mechanic in a Can.” Is this a reasonable quest? Companies that make these products claim that, by using their oil additive, the oil in your engine performs better and lasts longer. Unfortunately, the intense claims of these products give people a false sense of security. As a result, people put off oil and filter changes and the consequence is often premature engine failure.

An actual account recorded by Consumer Reports duplicated the test seen in the infomercial for the engine-oil additive Prolong to see if the product really does offer extra engine protection. The commercial said it added Prolong to the engine’s oil supply, then drained the oil and ran the car with no oil plugs or filters. The product makers say they ran the car with no oil for four hours without damaging the engine. (The infomercial has a small-print disclaimer: “Never run your car without oil or water.”) Testers at Consumer Reports used two former taxicabs with rebuilt GM V6 engines when they duplicated the infomercial test. After breaking the engines in, and changing their oil, they added Prolong to only one car, and drove them both more than 100 miles. Then they drained the oil and removed the filters, just like in the infomercial. Next, testers drove the cars around a test track to see what would happen. “We drove the cars around the test track at speeds between 20 and 30 miles per hour,” Consumer Reports tester Marc McEntee said. “We were able to go for 13 minutes, 5 miles, until both cars died within about 100 yards of one another.” Testers later took the engines apart. The damage to both engines, including the one with Prolong, was extensive.

Consumer Reports says save your money. Don’t buy the oil additives and make sure to keep your eye on your oil gauge. My recommendation: Change your oil and filter every 3,000-5,000 miles OR what’s recommended in your owner’s manual or oil life monitor and drink from the Automotive Fountain of Youth!

Where are the facts to substantiate the claims? Show me the scientific research. Show me where two identical cars were tested that had the same engines and the same equipment, one with the additive and one without. Show me where they ran them the same number of miles under the same conditions. Show me where each car had the same mechanical care and treatment over a defined and significant period of time. Finally, at the end of the test, did they disassemble both engines and examine them for comparable wear? To my knowledge, objective, controlled, scientific testing has not been done. Why do these product makers offer only personal testimonies and hype if they have scientific evidence to prove their claims? The answer is obvious as observed by the Consumer Reports’ test results — such products cannot live up to their claims.

Well folks, there’s no “Mechanic in a Can” to solve your mechanical wear problems. The good news? There is a solution: Maintenance is the Automotive Fountain of Youth!

‘Til next time … Keep Rollin’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.