Updated May 2017
Fuel savers do not work. That actually being sold are franchises to defraud others. The ‘fuel saver’ is typically a useless pill (typically of camphor).
Around 2006 a $100 million global scam involved just such a pill. It was claimed to save ‘up to 42%’. But, that being sold was not a fuel saver. It was, specifically, $100,000 franchises to sell it. Initial money thus funded the cost of attracting buyers for sub-franchises. And so on at various levels. When enough are sold the promoter finally takes off with the money. Many such scams work that way. That the ‘produce’ does not work is irrelevant. Advertising (with phony testimonials) may sell a few. The aim, however, is selling franchises. They are called Ponzi schemes.
Fuel savers do not work – but many believe they do
Meanwhile world media was deluged by ‘testimonials’. These asserted the useless product’s ‘worth’. But most were from early franchisees. The intent was specifically to attract sub-franchisee buyers. Tens of thousands bought them. Some paid up to A$100,000. Early main franchise holders were lucky. But many lost their life savings.
Curiously, some franchise holders still maintain the pill product works as claimed. And, likewise, that legal action and winding up, was a ‘fuel industry conspiracy to maintain profits’.
A few ‘fuel saver pill’ buyers even convinced themselves. Some claims exceeded those of the more fanatic franchisees.
Useless such products are often sold at markets, field days and exhibitions. The sellers are nevertheless not necessarily cynical. Many specifically believe that claimed but lack knowledge or facilities, however, to check for themselves.
This very readable book explains all. It was substantially this book that finally exposed the scam.
Why the belief?
Social psychologist Leon Festinger says people attempt to reconcile poor-fitting beliefs and actions by self-justification. ‘That Lo-Blow filter does so work! I spent $250 on it and I’m no fool’.
It occurs when a salesperson changes from (say) selling Audis to selling BMWs. Within days he/she is self-convinced the BMW is now better. Yet, and conversely, believed the exact opposite a week before.
Much seemingly editorial comment is advertising disguised. In addition, many a magazines’ ‘product reviews’ are paid for. One openly offers advertisers such reviews. The charge (in 2014) was A$1500 a page. To stave off lawyers, I have such an offer. It’s on a magazine letter heading. And in writing.
Fuel savers do not work – engine computer chips
Misleading claims for fuel saving devices often extends to increased power and increased torque. Yet, nevertheless, decreased fuel usage and smoother running. Many such claims remain almost unchanged since the 1920s.
These claims are not necessarily false. They, are nevertheless, mutually exclusive. Engine designers consider the most probable range of uses. They then design such that engine longevity, power and fuel consumption is optimised for such usage. Increased power, wider torque range, or less fuel usage is possible. BUT, at the expense of one or more of the others.
Replacement chips may well increase torque and/or power. But if that available extra is used, it reduces consumption and engine life. Were it possible otherwise, the designer would have done it. This market is decreasing. Many current cars have driver-selectable modes.
Fuel savers do not work – magnetic alignment/polarisation
Misleading promotion includes ‘magnetically aligning’ fuel particles. (Fossil fuels are non-polar so no such alignment is possible). The Brock Energy Polarisor, for example, had bar magnets set in epoxy resin. The claim was ‘to cause all molecules within its sphere of influence to be aligned or polarised’, This was to be ‘to the direction of high energy transmission’. And ‘in a linked or aligned state.’
It was claimed this not only affected every molecule in the vehicle. It claimed to absorb noise, vibration, resonances and impact harshness. Furthermore, it claimed to allow the vehicle to run on low octane fuel.
The Brock Energy Polariser. General Motors (Australia) sold 170 Brock versions. That (to put it mildly) caused ‘corporate embarrassment’. So Holden and Brock parted company.
Fuel savers do not work – running on water
I personally exposed this one in Electronics Today International (ETI) magazine. It was a device enabling a relatively standard car to ‘run on water’. Curiously, Jo Bjelke-Petersen’s then Queensland government supported it.
The car’s trailer held a large water tank. A pipe ran from that tank to the car’s slightly modified carburettor. Politicians and journalists reported favourably on its smoothness.
But none seemingly considered basic physics. So we had a look under that tank. There, we found half a tonne of lead acid batteries. Plus an electrolyser producing hydrogen from that water. (Given minor changes, petrol engines run well on hydrogen).
The Bjelke-mobile was an extremely inefficient car, It drew from 230 volts to charge that battery bank. That in turn generated hydrogen. We published what we found. Plus a photo on ETI’s front page. The Queensland Premier was not amused. But withdrew support.
Occasionally, major breakthroughs do result in overall gains. Turbo-charging works by exploiting otherwise wasted exhaust gas energy. In the 1970s, car makers claimed it a major breakthrough. Yet, here again, promotion misleads. It was not a current breakthrough. Turbo-charging was conceived in 1915. It was used extensively in ships from 1930. And in big trucks from the early 1950s.
Car makers reduce fuel usage by a large number of small improvements. Even minor gains involve extensive research. Many save less than 0.5%. An improvement of 1.0% may cost tens of millions of dollars.
Economy tyres are a rare exception. They reduce heat producing tread and side-wall flexing. This reduces fuel usage by about 3% saving.
Reducing vehicle weight, air drag etc saves yet more.
Virtually halving fuel usage has taken twenty or so years. It involves massive worldwide effort, and staggering cost. Yet ‘true believers’ claim only marginally less can be achieved via a 10 cent pill made of camphor!
The most effective fuel saver by far is to drive slower and gently. Driving at 80 km/h instead of 100 km/h cuts usage by 25%. Or, as in one case by a washer in the air inlet manifold of the van version. This restricted air and fuel draw. Performance enhancement for the car version was done by removing the washer. But, if that extra performance was used, fuel consumption increased.
Fuel savers do not work – errors in perception
Fuel consumption is surprisingly hard to measure. Temperature and barometric pressure varies how much the tank will hold. Fuel pumps are not 100% accurate. Filling station forecourts are not always level. Minor changes in driving patterns affect consumption.
There is also a placebo effect. A ‘fuel economiser’ may cause buyers to become aware of fuel wasting habits. They change their driving accordingly. In one test, 50% of a test fleet’s drivers were told their cars were ‘tuned for economy’. (Yet all retained standard settings). Those drivers consistently used less fuel. They slowly reverted when told the cars had been ‘set as before’.
Internet forums have a few people offering sound advice. Many are swamped by true believers and the ‘it’s just common sense’ brigade. And furthermore, by stuff that is wrong, and sometimes dangerous. Plus many defying the laws of physics. Many campfire discussions are similar.
John F. Kennedy’s commencement address to Yale University in 1962 expressed this superbly.
‘The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.’
Leon Festinger explains much of the above (in his very readable) Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.
My books and articles carry no advertising or promotion (other than for my books). These are all-new Caravan & Motorhome Book, Camper Trailer Book, Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. Solar That Really Works is for cabins and RVs. Solar Success is for home and property systems. Bio.