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Motoring: The Wrong Way to Save Fuel

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Motoring Editorial published in the May 2016 edition of The Billboard:

The world’s media often carry adverts that aim to sell gadgets and potions that are supposed to improve a car’s fuel consumption by anything from 10 to 30 per cent. They use every technique in the book to persuade you that their product can improve on the efforts of the world’s best automotive engineers. Engineers laugh at these claims. They know that the world’s automotive industry has spent a large percentage of their turnover to improve fuel consumption, because carbon dioxide emission is directly linked to fuel consumption. The chances of any further improvement coming from outside the main research community are extremely small.

Practically none of these devices or additives can make a difference because the combustion process in a modern engine is 98 per cent efficient. This means that a fantastically efficient combustion enhancer can only improve fuel consumption by two per cent.

Most of these devices fall into one of the following categories:

  • Magnets around the fuel line are supposed to improve combustion by lining-up the fuel molecules. This is not possible because fuel molecules are non-polar ie they’re not magnetic.
  • Intake manifold agitation fans aim to change the turbulence inside the manifold to improve the way fuel mixes with the air. This cannot work because modern manifold design already incorporates a turbulence-enhancing shape that is specific to each engine. Adding a universal device is likely to make matters worse.
  • Fuel additives aim to improve the fuel’s energy density. These usually contain metals such as tin, magnesium, or platinum that would have been added by the oil companies if they were beneficial.
  • Oil additives, advertised as engine treatments, usually contain teflon, zinc or chlorine compounds that may damage an engine.
  • Several electronic devices claim to condition the electrical system in such a way that fuel economy is improved. One of these plugs into the cigarette lighter socket!! Tests have shown that these have no effect on fuel consumption.
  • There are many sites on the Internet that explains how to generate hydrogen by passing an electric current from the car’s battery into a container full of water. The hydrogen is then added to the fuel to improve fuel consumption. This will certainly generate hydrogen, but in such small quantities that it will have no effect on the engine.
  • Computer chips that are able to override an engine’s control unit are able to improve fuel consumption, but it can only do so by forcing the engine to run on a lean mixture. This reduces the catalytic converter’s efficiency to such a low level that you might just as well remove it.

 

The above remarks are based on my own experience as a journalist and automotive engineer, augmented by articles that appeared in credible magazines and on the Internet. In addition, it’s worth looking at the following website: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/reports.htm.

It belongs to the American Environment Protection Agency, and lists many gadgets that are useless.

Text supplied by Jake Venter

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