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Monday, April 10, 2006


Signs of a Bogus Mileage Gadget

Gas prices seem to have gone up a lot recently for no good reason. This almost always seems to mean that on the Internet, there will be a lot of talk about gadgets that claim they can increase gas mileage without a good reason. There are quite a few con artists who have sold devices they claim will improve gas mileage that just plain don't work and are sold at incredible markups. Some of them have even made it into your corner auto parts store. Here are three tips that you might be dealing with a bogus mileage gadget.

1. Baloney Operating Principle.

While a few mileage rip-offs claim to work on theories that have real scientific merit, most rip-off devices claim that they work due to reasons that can be boiled down to one of two principles. And both of these operating principles are total baloney.

The first example of baloney is what I call the "Your engine doesn't burn all the gasoline" principle. These claim that for whatever reason - the usual being that not all the gasoline vaporizes - the typical engine has problems with "incomplete combustion" and that some of the gasoline either doesn't burn and goes straight out the tailpipe, or possibly burns in the exhaust system. If you can get all the gasoline to burn in the combustion chamber, proponents claim, you'll get a lot more gas mileage and more power.

Well, the truth is that somewhere between 97% and 99% of the gasoline actually does burn in the combustion chamber. This has been explained at length on such sites as
The Straight Dope and Tony's Guide to Fuel Saving. At most, you might gain a bit of improvement in a carbureted car before the engine warms up. That is one case where you actually do have incomplete combustion and the fuel doesn't vaporize well, but you won't have this problem on any car built in the last 15 years or so.

There are a fair number of people and companies that perpetuate this myth that an engine doesn't burn a substantial amount of its fuel. Methods that claim to make use of this baloney principle include the Tornado and its kin, acetone as a fuel additive, chemicals that add "catalysts" to the fuel to promote complete combustion, and vapor carburetors.

The second bit of common baloney is what I call the "something for nothing" principle. This one is easy to spot. The con artists who hawk these things claim that there is something that will give your gasoline considerably more energy merely by placing it near the fuel. This something, whatever it is, does not take external power and does not release any chemicals into the fuel. It just, through some intangible means, does something to the fuel that makes it release more energy when it burns.

This, of course, violates the basic principles of thermodynamics. To get more energy out of the gasoline, you would have to put some sort of energy into it. A device that merely exposes gasoline to a magntic field, or something similar (my favorite example is the one that claimed to use "photons" even though it was supposed to be attached to the outside of a gas tank), isn't going to add energy to your gasoline.

I have seen some dubious mileage devices that claim to use other principles - both real and baloney - for how they work. The above examples are just what I have found to be the most common.

2. Misused Terminology.

Many rip-offs use words that come from the world of performance cars. Or rather, they abuse these words. One well-known product claims to "supercharge any car." Well, a supercharger is a power-driven pump or compressor that forces more air into an engine. This particular device is not a pump, and does not force more air into the engine. Another prime example is the collection of "chips" marketed on eBay. These devices are actually not chips, but resistors. If you catch a promoter using a name or slogan that implies their device is a version of a well-known type of performance product, and it isn't, you are probably dealing with a bogus gadget.

3. Zero Street Cred.

If you go to a message board full of gearheads - or attend a car club meeting - most of the people there will have heard of bogus mileage gadgets. And if you ask about them, they'll probably laugh - at the gadget's claims, not necessarily at you. On occasion, you may find a forum or club where someone has managed to hoodwink all the members about a particular device, particularly if the members are mostly inexperienced. But usually a bogus gadget will get no respect from serious car guys.

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