Fuel Additives: Do They Work?

Car by the side of the roadSource | Jay Toor

You may be wondering if fuel additives are effective and if they work as well as advertisements claim. After all, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that all fuel sold in the U.S. contain a minimum amount of deposit-control additives to prevent a dangerous buildup in car systems. Isn't that enough? Well, it depends. There are benefits to using fuel additives (read on to find out what they are). But it’s important to choose the right additive and to have realistic expectations. Here are a few things to consider.

Types of fuel additives

One point of confusion over fuel additives comes from the baffling array of available products. There are many types of fuel additives, and they aren't one-size-fits-all or miracle cures. Each additive aims to relieve a different pain point. Here are a few of the most common types of fuel additives and what they do.

  • Fuel stabilizers. These are designed to maintain fuel's efficacy during periods of disuse. They prevent hard starting due to gas separation and engine corrosion in seasonal vehicles like boats and RVs.
  • Octane boosters. These are designed to increase fuel's octane rating. They include a lubricant to protect the cast-iron valve seats often found in classic cars.
  • Fuel injector cleaners. These are designed to protect fuel injectors from the gumming properties of Ethanol. Clogged fuel injectors perform poorly in cold weather and have sluggish acceleration.
  • Anti-gel diesel additives. These are designed to unclog diesel fuel filters and reduce hard starting during extremely low temperatures.

The bottom line is it's all about finding the right additive for your vehicle's needs, and then use it according to directions. Using an additive correctly can keep your engine working well and prevent costly repairs.

Pro Tip: Look for fuel additives that contain polybutene amine (PBA), which can clean out deposits from carburetors, fuel injectors, and intake valves.

Will an additive improve my fuel economy?

Not likely, according to a study conducted by the EPA. They tested more than 100 products claiming to improve fuel economy by 12 to 25 percent, including additives. Their findings? None of the products stacked up to their own claims and many could cause actual harm to an engine. Now, will your vehicle run more efficiently if you use an additive to, say, de-funkify your fuel injector, and will better gas mileage be a natural by-product? Maybe. But if better gas mileage is your primary aim, you'll be disappointed with the results. If you're looking to save money on gas, there are plenty of other effective ways to improve fuel economy without ever leaving your driveway.

A word of caution

Don’t overdo it. Using too much of any particular fuel additive can damage sensors and other features. You'll end up spending more in the long run than you would have dealing with typical deposit damage. So select the right additive, read the instructions carefully, and check your owner's manual when in doubt.  

What do you think? Is there an additive you've found helpful? Share your thoughts with other vehicle owners.

Last updated July 11, 2017

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