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August 2004
Watch Out for Gas-Saving Scams

   Gas prices climbing to nearly $2 per gallon have prompted marketers to advertise products claiming to improve gas mileage by, for example, “an extra 6 miles per gallon” or to “improve fuel economy up to 26 percent.”

   On July 12, 2004, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a consumer alert: “Dubious Gas-Saving Gadgets Can Drive You to Distraction.” The FTC’s alert focused on potential advertising misrepresentations and noted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tested more than 100 supposed gas-saving devices in laboratories across the country. The FTC explained that the EPA has concluded that most devices—including fuel-mixture enhancers and fuel-line magnets—provided few, if any, fuel economy benefits. Furthermore, the FTC explained the EPA is concerned some devices might actually damage a car’s engine or cause substantial increases in exhaust emissions.

   The EPA has evaluated a number of devices including fittings that bleed air into the carburetor, vapor-bleed devices that bubble air through a container of water and anti-freeze mixture, liquid injection mechanisms for the fuel/air intake system, fuel-line devices that either heat or cool the fuel before it enters the carburetor, fuel-line magnetic units that are claimed to change the molecular structure of gasoline, metals installed in the fuel line to supposedly cause ionization of the fuel, mixture “enhancers,” a variety of internal engine modifications, and fuels and oil additives. The EPA found a few that indicated a slight improvement in fuel economy, but at the same time they increased exhaust emissions. Most marketed products were found to not offer the consumer any benefit. If you are interested in looking at the list, go to www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/reports.htm.

   Many of the tests were done on products marketed in the 1980s, the last time gas prices were historically high. However, the testing data is still useful because misleading advertising tends to run in cycles. Many older products that were considered scams before can be re-marketed successfully because younger consumers aren’t familiar with the scam, and older consumers have either forgotten about the scam or the deception is packaged differently.

   If you decide to buy a fuel-saving device, the Better Business Bureau recommends you check with your mechanic before adding it to your car because it may void the manufacturer’s warranty or cause serious engine problems.

   The FTC also makes several recommendations to ensure you get the best miles-per-gallon rating possible for your vehicle. First, use only the octane level your vehicle needs, as indicated by your owner’s manual.

   Second, maintain your vehicle properly. Keep your engine tuned, make sure your tires are properly inflated and aligned, change your oil as recommended by your owner’s manual, and check and replace air filters regularly.

   Third, the FTC recommends you drive as efficiently as possible. Drive within posted speed limits, use overdrive gears and cruise control for highway driving, avoid unnecessary idling and jackrabbit starts and stops, and remove excess weight from the trunk.

   All of these recommendations are useful and may save you some hard-earned money during this summer and fall driving season.

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