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Do Fuel Injector Cleaners and Other Gas Additives Really Work?

There are many, many different fuel additives on the market. The shelves of your local auto parts store are filled with them. Let's try and make some sense out of this product category.

What is a fuel additive?

Fuel additives are products that you pour into your gas tank to solve, or prevent a specific problem. These additives are designed to accomplish a variety of objectives. Some types are more trustworthy than others. Let's start with the ones that usually do what they claim, and whose performance is easy to verify:

  • Fuel stabilizers, used to keep fuel in seasonally used vehicles like boats, RVs, and sports cars from decomposing and causing corrosion during long periods of storage.
  • Octane boosters, used to raise your fuel's octane rating for high-performance or racing applications.
  • Anti-gel diesel additives, used to help diesel fuel to flow better at very low temperatures.

And then there are the fuel system and injector cleaners

These products are claimed to keep your fuel injectors clean and performing at their best, free of carbon deposits. But how can you know if they are working in your engine?

Gas can / Image source

First, a little fuel injector history

Originally used to improve the power output of high-performance engines, fuel injection later became common in production cars, replacing carburetors as a way to control the flow of fuel into the cylinders. Fuel injectors have tiny valves that regulate the amount of fuel sprayed into the engine, as directed by your engine's computer. Because fuel-injected engines meter fuel very precisely, they have been able to meet increasingly stringent emissions and fuel economy standards.

Today's fuel injectors run at very high fuel pressures and very high temperatures, either right next to or inside of your engine's combustion chambers. To make things worse, most gasoline today has ethanol blended into it by law, which accelerates the formation of carbon deposits. This is a very hostile environment for a high-precision piece of equipment like a fuel injector. A small piece of carbon can affect its performance. These carbon deposits also build up on engine parts, reducing fuel economy, increasing emissions and affecting vehicle performance.

What's a concerned motorist to do?

Let's say that you are concerned about engine deposits forming in your vehicle's engine. It would be great to be able to pour a bottle of some magic potion into your tank, and feel like the problem was solved, wouldn't it? It's not that easy!

Buyer beware - these products are largely unregulated

There are a couple of issues to consider when you are thinking of purchasing one of these products. First, many of these products' claims have not been scientifically proven. Second, there is no way to know if these products will work for you.

Beware the claims of being an "EPA Registered" product

Every fuel additive sold can claim to be "EPA Registered." Unfortunately, this means nothing. Why?

First, all motor vehicle fuel additives must be registered with the EPA. It's the law. Secondly, this registration has nothing to do with whether the product does what it claims. As the EPA stated in a 2011 report about fuel additives:

"EPA does require fuel additives to be "registered" but EPA does not test candidate products for engine efficiency, emissions benefits, or safety as part of the registration process. To register an additive, manufacturers must report the chemical composition along with certain technical, marketing, and health effects information. In some cases the manufacturer may be required to conduct testing or literature research to assess potential emissions health effects."

"The EPA registration process does not include a check of manufacturer product efficacy claims. In other words, EPA does not determine whether or not the fuel additive works as advertised. Registration does not represent EPA endorsement of the product."

Don't lose hope, there is an easier way

What if there was an easy way to clean your engine of deposits, one that did not involve putting your faith in some unsubstantiated claims printed on a plastic bottle?

It's called Top Tier Gasoline

Vehicle manufacturers are well aware of what is going on inside their engines. Carbon deposits have been a known problem for many years. In response to this problem, the manufacturers worked with certain oil companies to put a special, high-strength additive package, with superior deposit-cleaning qualities, into their gasoline. The manufacturers then recommend that owners use those brands of gasoline for optimum performance and a cleaner engine.

Starting with a few gasoline brands, this trend has swept through the industry. It has led to the creation of Top Tier Detergent Gasoline, in which any brand meeting the Top Tier enhanced additive standards is licensed to use the term to promote its products. Many auto manufacturers have recommended the use of Top Tier Detergent Gasoline in their vehicles. This is a great first step toward keeping your engine clean and free of deposits, and it costs virtually nothing.

Recent AAA testing, using an independent laboratory, showed that non-Top Tier gasolines caused 19 times more engine deposits, after only 4,000 miles, than those that meet the Top Tier standards. AAA recommends that drivers use Top Tier Detergent Gasoline.

To identify which retail brands are licensed to sell Top Tier Detergent Gasoline, simply visit the Top Tier website and check the list.

If your fuel injectors still need attention, try this

If you have been using Top Tier Detergent Gasoline and you think that your fuel injectors are not working properly, then it is time to see your mechanic. If your injectors are really clogged with carbon, then a physical cleaning may be in order.

Get it diagnosed by a professional

To do this, your fuel injectors are removed from the engine and thoroughly cleaned. This process usually uses a very strong chemical solvent, one that the EPA would never approve for a pour-in-the-gas-tank product.

First, the injectors are soaked in the solvent with ultrasonic vibration applied. Next, the solvent is forced through the injectors at high pressure in the reverse direction of the normal fuel flow. Finally, the injectors are media blasted to remove external deposits, and the wear parts like O-rings and seals are replaced. This process should restore the performance of your injectors.

Follow these useful tips

If you want to keep your engine and fuel injectors free of deposits on an ongoing basis, without pouring your money down the drain, here are some helpful tips:

  • Additives do not necessarily make any difference, so use them at your own risk with zero expectations. Advertising claims are not the same as proven results.
  • Some shops and dealers automatically add fuel additives to their maintenance services. Opting out of these when getting your vehicle serviced can save money on maintenance costs.
  • Use Top Tier Detergent Gasoline for engine cleaning and deposit prevention in everyday driving.
  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it! A properly running vehicle should not need any additives.

If your car is not running properly, have your mechanic check it out. It may or may not be a fuel system or fuel injector issue.

2 User Comments

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REDLINE Fuel System Cleaner has the HIGHEST % of PEA Polyethelineamine PERIOD!! it is an expensive cleaning agent that does NOT burn off as it enters the Combustion Chamber - Gunk has PEA on some of their products but you have to look for the PEA emblem as does Royal Purple and Chevron Techron BUT to a MUCH lesser Degree. Lucas has 0 PEA I spoke to Corporate. The Lucas Fuel Injector Cleaner is more of a conditioner. REDLINE OR NOTHING!
Thanks for the top tier link