April 28, 2014
Turbochargers actually improve performance. Click image to enlarge
Debunking by Justin Pritchard
You need only visit the beverage cooler at your local gas station to see marketers hard at work pitching bottled fluids that promise higher energy levels, boosted focus, enhanced stamina, faster recovery from strenuous activity and, in various forms, higher human performance. Down four or five bucks’ worth of liquid from a colourful canister, and you’ll be smarter, faster, stronger, and more appealing to the opposite sex. After all – who couldn’t use a boost in energy, strength or stamina?
As humankind shifts towards a generation of pampered do-nothings, proper and high-quality rest, diet and exercise often take a back-seat to drinks (or pills or powders or supplements) as the go-to pathways to health, vitality and well-being. Some of these beverages even proudly include a message like “Never exceed one dose in 24 hours” – a classic marketing trick to make young consumers want to do just the opposite.
Though you won’t find bottled promises for your car in the gas-station’s refrigerator, you’ll likely find them nearby on the shelf by the Mars bars, breath mints and tacky gift paraphernalia.
“Increase horsepower up to 10 percent! May help reduce fuel consumption! Helps your engine run more smoothly! Can boost compression! Will probably make that sexy office secretary find you irresistible!”
Some standout words are presented above. Can. May. Up To. These are scapegoats. So that they’re not subject to false advertising claims, many of these terms are used when selling snake-oil products so that if there’s no change, they’re still covered.
A pour-in additive can increase your fuel mileage “up to” 10 percent. So, if it increased your mileage by 0 percent, it’s still true. “May” make your engine more powerful isn’t a promise or guarantee. “May” means “maybe”. “Might”. It also covers “may not”. Other examples exist, and so the automotive energy drinks industry flourishes.
Some of my pals have more serious business to tackle than the average person and require the above-average alertness and focus provided by a continual intake of “BEASTMODE” liquid stimulants. Others insist that their rides, as above-average in terms of performance and hardcore factor than those used by “normal” drivers, require similar beverages.
The author on what we assume are BEASTMODE liquid stimulants, and the Toyota MR2 GTS in question. Click image to enlarge
One friend swears a bottle of pour-in-tank additive with the word “NOS” on it automatically activates some mysterious chemical property when it hits the fuel injectors at full throttle to provide an on-demand power boost. Another religiously pours a $13-dollar dose of additive into his engine oil and swears that his gas mileage improves. Yet another once called me a monster for changing the oil in my MR2 GTS with conventional Castrol oil, not high-dollar synthetic, with an extra pour-in friction-busting syrup on top of that. Surely, he thought, my little turbo-four needed protection designed for 600-horsepower Ferraris, and then some?
My MR2 GTS is gone, replaced by a 2000 Dodge Viper. More power. More heat. More cylinders. But my logic hasn’t changed.
Sunoco Ultra 94 and its intended use case. Click image to enlarge
I love my car, my engine, my fuel system and my performance as much as the next guy. [No, Justin, we're pretty sure you love it much, much more! –Ed.] But a few things I consider to be realities keep me from using pour-in additives. Maybe I’m just justifying being cheap. Probably, I’m being realistic.
First: no gasoline additive will make your engine more powerful. Your engine uses a complicated computer system to provide optimized and high-precision combustion. A liquid with a lightning bolt on the bottle doesn’t change that. Unless your engine can get air and fuel in or out more quickly and in larger amounts, performance won’t change. So save the seven bucks for a bottle of fuel injector cleaner a few times a year instead. Keeping your injectors and valves clean, after all, will help maintain your ride’s performance as it was set at the factory.
Second: If your engine requires high-octane gas and you feed it 87, you’ll lose performance, but the opposite isn’t true. Feeding your Cobalt or Corolla 91 or 94 octane fuel is a waste of about 15 cents a litre you can bet the oil companies don’t lose any sleep over. Millions feed their Honda Civics and Dodge Journeys high-octane fuel hoping for some performance benefit. Some folks even swear they get better mileage and more power in the process. Just remember – high octane fuel has no additional energy in it than regular octane. Technically, high-octane gas is less flammable than regular stuff. There’s no performance benefit to running high-octane gas through an engine that’s not tuned for it. “Says who!” asked a fella who overheard me telling a friend this at coffee. “Science? Engineering?” I replied. Octane doesn’t make a gas more powerful, despite what marketing might imply.