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by John Cadogan

You can bet more consumers than ever will be tempted to buy one of those miracle fuel savers. The price of oil is peaking after a GFC-induced hiatus, and that means car owners around the world are seeing their hip pockets impacted harder every time they fill up.

These fuel savers promise up to 30 per cent fuel economy increases, as well as better performance, engine cleaning, a quicker burn and reduced emissions.

It sounds too good to be true – principally because it is. The crackpot claims made by the sellers of miracle fuel savers invariably fail to stack up. They fail basic engineering/scientific tests. Fuel saver devices are invariably a rip-off.

They tend to fall into a few different categories.

Catalysts: these are employed in chemistry labs (and in your car’s catalytic converter) to kick-start reluctant chemical reactions. Your catalytic converter uses small amounts of very expensive metals like platinum, rhodium and palladium to break down undesirable exhaust byproducts.

Unfortunately, however, the combustion going on in your engine won’t benefit from a catalyst. Reason? Simple – combustion isn’t a hard-to-start reaction. In fact it’s too easy. Higher octane fuels are designed to be more reluctant to burn, not more eager. And to get the improved performance/economy possible from a high octane fuel, the engine must be optimized for it – with more compression, etc.

Platinum, for example, currently trades at about $63,500 per kilo (rather more than, say, lettuce – even at post-flood prices) so you can bet there’s not too much of it being used in those miracle fuel savers purporting to offer platinum injection. (At $63,500 per kilo, you wouldn’t want to use all that much of it to start saving petrol at $1.40 per litre – even if it worked, which it doesn’t.)

Magnets: anyone who thinks a couple of magnets clamped on your fuel lines will boost fuel economy should have their driver’s licence shredded on principle. Magnets only significantly affect things that conduct electricity. Fuel doesn’t conduct electricity. Join the dots…

Magnet-based miracle fuel savers tout the benefits of aligning the fuel molecules, which – allegedly – leads to faster, cleaner burns in the combustion chamber. So, let’s see: even if the magnets did ‘align the molecules’ in the fuel line, and even if ‘aligned molecules’ assisted combustion (it doesn’t), what do these people think happens to the fuel after it passes through the magnetic field? It gets squirted out of a tiny injector aperture into a rapidly moving, turbulent airstream, onto the back of a hot inlet valve. I’m tipping this would be enough to randomize any ‘upstream’ molecular alignment.

This notion of ‘alignment’ is ridiculous anyway. Although it’s possibly tempting to imagine little strings of octane molecules marching into your engine, looking something like the way they drew them on the blackboard in high school, petrol is a complete hodge-podge of carbon-chem misfits. It contains everything from butane (four carbons) to decane (10 carbons). If you look at just octane (eight carbons) there are 18 different ‘flavours’ of the stuff (called ‘isomers’ – different ways of joining the eight carbons and 18 hydrogens together) and each of them is a different shape – things like trimethylpentane, dimethylhexame and tetramethlybutane. There are 35 isomers of nonane and 75 different, misshapen, isomers of decane. Good luck lining them all up…

Vortex generators: these are little fan-shaped devices designed (if that’s the right word) to be fitted into your inlet air plumbing. They purport to be able to boost the turbulence of the engine’s inlet air (in theory, a good thing because it improves the swirl and mix of the fuel/air mixture in the chamber, which improves combustion speed and completeness). The first problem with these things is that the air going into your combustion chamber is already turbulent enough. The second problem is that turbulence is a very short-lived phenomenon – so turbulence generated w-a-y upstream where these fan-like gimmicks go doesn’t survive the trip into the combustion chamber.

Third, anything that isn’t independently powered, which you stick into the engine’s inlet air plumbing will restrict the airflow. Restricting the airflow hurts performance and economy. Look at racing – one of the best ways to limit engine performance is to require all vehicles to fit a specific sized inlet air restrictor.

Lastly, even if vortex generators worked (and they don’t) and managed to increase swirl in the chamber, speeding up combustion, they’d also need to retard the ignition timing – otherwise the (faster) combustion would occur too early…

Anyone who sells a miracle fuel saver is basically praying on vulnerable, gullible people who have no technical knowledge. Look at the evidence: every day around the world, thousands of engineers and technicians go to work in the car industry, in engine development centres. Their job is to get the next generation of engines together – basically to boost fuel efficiency and deliver increased performance, which are flipsides of the same engineering coin.

They’ve been quite successful at it, over the past decade or so, but their solutions have been expensive – requiring fundamental redesign of things like ancilliary drive systems, and a re-work of fundamental internal components to cut friction. Their counterparts in design are looking at every conceivable way to slash weight using better construction techniques and hi-tech materials. They are currently working on engines with not just variable valve timing but ‘total valve control’ as well as engines that transition from four-stroke operation at low speeds to two-stroke operation at high speeds. None of this R&D is cheap.

Each company, Toyota, Honda, the Volkswagen Group, etc., is in a massive race to bring this technology to market first, at the lowest possible cost. The car industry is tremendously competitive. Do you think they’d bother spending all that money developing things like total valve control if the next 20 per cent economy boost could be achieved just by getting last year’s engine, taping some magnets on the fuel line, whipping a catalyst into the fuel or fitting the fan from a kid’s toy into the inlet air plumbing? If you do, I’ve got some prime swamp land in the Florida everglades you might like to buy for the redevelopment potential.

If you’re interested in this topic you might want to Google the following search terms and compare the claims to the fundamental concepts stated above: Ecoflow, FuelMAX, Prozone, MAXPower, FuelSaverPro, EcoMag, ZEFS, Broquet, Fitch Fuel Catalyst, Fuelcat, Enviromax Plus, Vitaliser, PICC, PVI, Gasaver, CTech 3000, FuelSaverDevice, Ecotek, Tornado, Hiclone, Powerjet USA, SpiralMax, Turbonator, Vortex Valve, and others.