Car care advice

Do Fuel System Additives Really Work?

As required by the EPA, all gasoline sold in the United States must contain a minimum level of deposit-control additive to prevent buildup of sediment in the engine and fuel system. However, just because a fuel meets EPA minimums doesn’t mean it prevents deposits from forming.

Check any auto parts store shelf and you’ll be overwhelmed by the selection of aftermarket fuel system and gasoline additives designed to do everything from cleaning fuel injectors and boosting power to increasing fuel economy and improving your sex appeal. But do they all work as advertised?

Fuel System Cleaners

Although you’re out of luck on the sex appeal front, there are some additives on the market that do indeed help keep engines clean. Some can even remove existing deposits left by lower-quality gasolines and help restore your car’s original performance. Chemistry plays a large role in an additive’s effectiveness. Some fuel system cleaners contain polybutene amine (PBA) chemistry and can remove deposits from:

  • Fuel injectors
  • Carburetors
  • Intake valves
  • Ports

They can also help:

  • Restore lost engine performance
  • Help lower engine emissions

However, that’s where PBAs benefits stop. In fact, additives with PBA chemistry actually contribute to combustion chamber deposits, which can potentially cause engine knock and increased emissions.

More advanced additives—especially those containing polyether amine (PEA) chemistry—can deliver additional benefits, such as cleaning combustion chambers, reducing engine knocking and pinging, relieving cold-startup issues, and removing harmful sulfur deposits from gas gauge sensors to protect them from malfunctions.

Chevron patented PEA chemistry in the early 1980s. Today, it's not only used in the company’s Techron Concentrate Plus, but also in fuel system cleaners from STP, Gumout, and Valvoline. In fact, many auto dealerships use PEA chemistry in the fuel injection-cleaning service they offer. So instead of paying $150, head over to your local auto parts dealer once every 3,000 miles, buy a fuel system cleaner with PEA, put it in with a full tank of gas, and save $140.

Fuel Economy and Power Boosters

As gasoline prices rise, there’s increasing controversy surrounding aftermarket additives—as well as chemicals like acetone—and whether they actually help improve fuel economy and power.

Many don’t. Ignore additive makers’ claims and rely only on years of proven science. If the manufacturer can’t prove measurable gains in a laboratory environment over years of testing, it’s snake oil. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it most often is. For example, there is no significant science to support claims that acetone boosts fuel economy or power. It does, however, have corrosive effects on the fuel system gaskets and hoses, which adversely affects your vehicle. Even if such chemicals did produce some positive effects, it wouldn't matter that much if your car isn't even running!

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