Beware of Gas Aid Gadgets

By: Anthony Fontanelle

As gasoline prices rise above $3 per gallon, the sound of gas aid gadgets that promise improved fuel economy by 20 percent, as auto parts stores are claiming on their web sites, is so enticing. But federal regulators caution shoppers not to act too quickly.

A consumer warning from the Federal Trade Commission showed that gas gadgets such as mixture enhancers, air bleed devices, and fuel additives rarely pay off. In fact, the federal regulator said that they are zero for 93.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Ann Arbor laboratory tested 93 additives, modifications and other products that claim to enhance fuel economy however none received its seal of approval. The lab's analysis, spanning three decades, found ten devices that showed a small improvement in fuel economy, and four of those increased emissions.

"Generally as gas prices go up, consumers are more concerned about saving on fuel cost, and companies or marketers take advantage by selling questionable gas saving devices," FTC spokesman Hampton Newsome said. "These products often are found to have little or no savings in terms of fuel economy and can damage your engine or increase emissions."

Products flagged as scams include: ADAKS Vacuum Breaker Air Bleed, Electro-Dyne Superchoke mixture enhancer and Fuelon Power additive. Regulators said that finding those brands is unlikely. This is because faulty products tend to change swiftly but identical devices abound.

Punitive action is often resorted to by regulators. That is what the FTC did last year when it claimed a $4 million settlement from the makers of FuelMax, a product that claimed to increase gas mileage 27 percent but did not come anywhere close to that.

Statistics says over 41 million Americans travel at least 50 miles from their homes, a record for Independence Day. According to AAA Michigan, on Monday, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in Metro Detroit stood at $3.06, down three cents over the past week, but up 12 cents from last year over the same period.

Instead of trying questionable devices, auto experts say that maintaining a vehicle is a smarter choice. Nothing compares to properly inflated tires, maintained filters and tuned auto parts. Ensuring the good condition of the or the Toyota engine, for that matter, can make a big difference. It will more likely increase gas mileage than using a specialty item.

But not all fuel-improving products should be painted as worthless, said Bill Ponkowski, a manager at Glendale Auto Supply in Farmington. He said, he does recommend fuel injector cleaners, but says drivers should be cautious with other products.

"Don't expect a miracle, but some additives can be very good at cleaning a dirty fuel system out," Ponkowski said. "A lot of people do ask how to get better gas mileage. First we ask when they last had a tune-up, and then we'll look at fuel additives to make sure they're getting the best mileage they can."

Most additives come via the FTC, when it is investigating false advertising claims, EPA spokesman John Millet said. "Most of these additives don't have more energy in them than gasoline, there's no way they can improve fuel economy," he said. He added that one product had the same active ingredients as moth balls. "That might work in the closet, but not the tank."

One reason these gas gadgets do not often work, Millet said, is automotive engineers tend to be smarter than over-promising marketers. "If there was a device that drastically improved gas mileage or a different formulation of fuel, we'd already be using it," Millet said. "The best fuel-saving equipment is controlling your right foot."

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