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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

 

An open letter to the Federal Trade Commission

I've blogged about companies that make dubious claims about improving gas mileage. I've talked about them on message boards. I really don't like it when unscrupulous manufacturers take advantage of people's ignorance about cars and anxiety over high gas prices. Well, now, I've decided to do something else about it.

Did you know that the Federal Trade Commission has the power to compell any company making something they claim improves gas mileage to submit it to the EPA for testing? When that happens, the EPA publishes their results online for the world to see. And I'd like to see them do that to the makers of the Turbonator, SpiralMax, Vortec Cyclone, Tornado Fuel Saver, and the whole collection of scum trying to promote "superchargers" with no moving parts.

I'm sending a letter to the FTC today urging them to look into this. And I would appreciate it if you, the readers, would also take action to make these people put up (their test results) or shut up. Here is the letter I am sending the FTC.


Federal Trade Commission
CRC-240
Washington, DC 20580

Dear Federal Trade Commission:

I am writing to you to complain about an automotive device that I believe to be a scam. It's been around for many years, but recently the people who sell it have made a much more aggressive push, getting it displayed in large display cases at Pep Boys and other auto parts stores. This product goes by several brand names, including Tornado Fuel Saver, SpiralMax, Vortec Cyclone, and Turbonator. The companies selling this often make claims that range from misleading to completely false, and I've seen several tests by news media and private citizens where it failed to produce the promised improvements in horsepower and gas mileage. Here are some examples of false claims:

First, the devices claim to be superchargers. Spiralmax and Vortec Cyclone both use “Supercharge any car” as their slogan, and Turbonator's website promises that their product allows you to “Supercharge your car, truck, van, boat, RV, or motorcycle in just a few minutes.” A supercharger is a power-driven air compressor installed in an engine's air intake. These devices are not power-driven, and do not resemble or function as an air compressor or pump in any way.

Second, these devices all claim to improve gas mileage. Vortec Cyclone's manufacturers claim, “The average user experiences a 1-2 MPG improvement in fuel economy; some users have experienced up to a 30% increase in mileage.” Tornado Fuel Saver claims, “TornadoFuelSaver increases gas mileage anywhere from 7-15%.” Turbonator claims, “Turbonator users have reported MPG increases from 10 to 22 percent,” and SpiralMax claims, “You get more torque, acceleration, and better fuel economy.” However, tests by Popular Mechanics (in their September 2005 issue) and CNN found such devices produced anywhere from no effect on fuel mileage, to a 10% drop in fuel mileage. I have never seen an independent test under controlled conditions where any one of these four devices has produced an improvement in fuel economy.

Third, they claim to provide improvements in horsepower, sometimes as much as 35 hp or 35% more power. I have seen the results of several people subjecting these to dynamometer tests, and every time it has been tested in this manner, installing the device caused the engine to lose horsepower instead of gain power. One of the results, where a truck lost 10% of its horsepower, was published in the September 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics; another test appeared on CNN.com with similar results.

They are marketed with several other dubious claims. Many of them claim to produce more “swirl” in the combustion chamber, but are installed upstream of a flat throttle blade and between one and two feet of plumbing where the air must execute several turns, branch off into individual cylinder runners, and pass through the intake valves. It is doubtful that any swirl effect created by this device could sustain itself long enough through the intake to produce any meaningful results in combustion.

I am writing to request that the FTC take action against the manufacturers and marketers of these devices. Every independent, scientific test I have seen of such devices has shown that they do not perform according to the manufacturers' claims. I would like to see these companies forced to submit their devices to EPA testing to determine if there is any basis in fact for these claims.

I have not bought one of these myself, but if you need for me to test one personally to have a basis for filing a complaint, I would be glad to purchase one, install it on one of my personal vehicles, and have it tested on a dynamometer to see if it causes my car to lose horsepower – as I suspect it will.

Here are the addresses of the companies marketing these products:

Tornado Fuel Saver
1182 Hyde Park Dr.
Santa Ana, CA 92705

The Vortec Cyclone's manufactures do not give their physical address out on the company website, but they may be found online at http://www.vorteccyclone.com/index.html.

Turbonator
6747 Land O Lakes Blvd.
Land O Lakes, Florida, 34638

SpiralTech USA, Inc. - JT&T Mfg, Inc. (SpiralMax)
111 W. Fairview Avenue
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Matthew Cramer

If you'd like to lobby the government to have one of these things tested, the address is right there at the top of my letter. While it might not be effective to copy my letter verbatim (they might think I was a Mad Xeroxer, sending in dozens of the same letter), feel free to use it as a template. If you've been ripped off, be sure to mention your experience in your letter. You may also contact Steve Johnson, the EPA Administrator, who also has the authority to force the manufacturers to submit their products to EPA testing. I believe this address is the correct one to reach him:

Steve Johnson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

If you believe these manufacturers are innocent, that these products actually work, I'd urge you to contact the FTC and EPA too, and ask for these to be tested. Why? Well, for one thing, that'll shut me up about them! I will issue an apology to these companies in the unlikely event that an EPA test reveals their products actually work. And if they work, you shouldn't have anything to fear from what I'm proposing, should you?

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Comments:
I don't know about Popular Mechanics, but I have had good results with the Vortec Cyclone in my Pontiac Bonneville. I'm getting 30-40 more miles per tankful, and I can definitely feel a boost in power.
 
Matthew, I'm going to have to disagree with you "strongly" about accusing individuals, such as myself, about our "ignorance" for purchasing a product like this. Honestly, what choice do we have? I don't think it's anyones ignorance to try and improve our vehicles and the mileage that they are getting, regardless if it is a proven product or not. If you want my personal opinion, and if you want to accuse people of being ignorant. Try accusing our government for our greedy oil dependencies, and not starting to look elsewhere for other means. I wonder, who butters their bread. Hmmm, have big oil companies grown so strong and powerful, that they can have an influence on governmental decision making. I think so. We can clone sheep, but yet we still need to build V-8 engines that needs 400 to 500 horsepower. Like any and all problems in this country, we don't do anything about it until it's almost to late. Milk it til the last dollar. Gas is bordering 4 dollars a gallon. If someone told me that driving your car with my head out the window helped gas mileage, I would do that. I have no problem with you writing to the federal trade commission. I too like seeing results. Just be careful who you are calling ignorant!!!!!
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Dear Anonymous:

I am using "ignorance" to mean a lack of knowledge, specifically, a lack of knowledge about the inner wrokings of a car. You have a choice: To blindly pay money for something somebody claims will improve mileage, to see what experts are saying about the device, or to learn enough about the subject that you can determine for yourself.

To use your example, somebody who believes that driving with one's head out of the window would improve gas mileage is demonstrating an ignorance of the principles of aerodynamics.

Ignorance is curable. May I recommend starting at Tony's Guide to Fuel Saving? You'll find the link at the sidebar on the main blog.
 
Do you have an update on the effectiveness or other wise of these products? Has anyone officially tested them? Has the FTC done anything about them?
 
The definition of IGNORANCE is not knowing. I believe Matthew was ABSOLUTELY correct in using this word and after the comment that followed nearly immediately after indeed he was right. I offer a fantastic fuel saver gadget. Please send me all of your car keys and you will get INFINITE gas mileage. No facts on any of these items that I can find to prove that they actually work. No proof
 
Why is the EPA involved in this ? Don't you have anything better to do ? Like spend our tax dollars.
 
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