by Paul Abelson, senior technical editor
Hardly a week goes by that someone isn’t asking me to evaluate the latest, greatest, fuel-saving device.
Some of you ask about chemicals that you put in your fuel. Some of you want to know more about devices that you place in or around a fuel line. Some ask about additives you put in oil.
There are good products out there, but by virtue of their particular claims, it’s a tough field in which to earn validation.
Some of these products come with amazing claims guaranteed to get your attention, usually with some kind of testimonials or testing to back them up. Beware.
We’ve learned that Charlie G. from Oklahoma increased fuel mileage 23.4 percent, and that John W. from Wisconsin now gets 7.6 mph. We read that the Aushaus Technische Institut of Bavaria ran comprehensive tests on which the claims are based. We don’t know where the Aushaus Institut is or how to find it (I guess it has an unlisted number) or what its test procedures are. We don’t know who Charlie or John are, nor the circumstances behind their experiences.
Approved by EPA or FTC?
Many companies proudly claim their products were tested by the Environmental Protection Agency or any other government agency. No government group does testing for commercial operations. EPA does, however, cooperate with the Federal Trade Commission and tests to make sure claims are not exaggerated.
As an EPA brochure states, “The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns you to be wary of any gas-saving claims for automotive devices or oil and gas additives. Even for the few gas-saving products that have been found to work, the savings have been small.” In federal parlance, unless otherwise specified, “gas” is the term generally used for all fuels.
The EPA continues, writing that it “has evaluated or tested more than 100 alleged gas-saving devices and has not found any product that significantly improves gas mileage. In fact, some ‘gas-saving’ products may damage a car’s engine or cause substantial increases in exhaust emissions.”
When you see a claim that “This gas-saving device is approved by the federal government,” be very wary. The EPA states, “No government agency endorses gas-saving products for cars. The most that can be claimed in advertising is that the EPA has reached certain conclusions about possible gas savings by testing the product or by evaluating the manufacturer’s own test data. If the seller claims its product has been evaluated by the EPA, ask for a copy of the EPA report, or check www.epa.gov for information. In some instances, false claims of EPA testing or approval have been made.”
The EPA tests or reviews data submitted to it primarily to make sure that the device or chemical has no adverse effect on the environment, and that any testing was done according to recognized standards. But the agency certainly does not test fuel economy on behalf of any commercial venture.
How, then, can you know whether a product really will increase your fuel economy?
That question plagued the trucking industry for years, because there are so many variables that go into the equation.
What we needed was a test procedure that would eliminate all the variables, things like load, truck shape, terrain, weather, driver technique and experience, tire pressures and treads, and a host of other factors that affect fuel economy. All it takes is a subtle change in one or two factors to have a significant effect on mpg.
The Maintenance Council (TMC, before it added “Technology” to its name), working closely with the Society of Automotive Engineers, developed such test procedures in the 1980s.
TMC Recommended Practices RP1102 and RP 1103 are called “TMC/SAE In-Service Fuel Consumption Test Procedures.” They are, respectively, Type II, also known as SAE J1321, and Type III, also called J1526. There was a Type I, but it proved to be inaccurate and was dropped.
There are two test procedures because some items, like air shields or fan clutches, can easily be dismounted or removed from one truck and placed on another. Items like engines or transmissions require substantial time for removal and replacement or modification, making it impractical to switch between trucks. When the item to be tested can be switched, Type III test procedures are used. When switching is a problem, Type II tests will work. Both Type II and Type III tests are accurate within 1 percent.
Both tests call for at least two trucks, as identical as possible, to be brought to near-perfect condition. Engines are tuned. Tire inflation is checked. Wheels are aligned on both tractors and trailers. In Type II tests, a test truck is compared with a control truck during multiple runs, both before and after the addition of the single item being tested. The control truck is never modified, but drivers do alternate between trucks.
In Type III testing, trucks A and B alternate as test trucks and control trucks. Test segments are made up of at least three valid runs each, with changes in driver, trailer or load between segments. Special fuel tanks are used, filled from a common fuel source. After warm up, tanks are precisely weighed.
Why is this important? Because these are the only tests recognized by our industry’s two major technical societies, TMC and SAE, as providing an accurate basis for making claims. When running these tests, all procedures must be followed precisely. One key element is that testing be done by an independent party that has no vested interest in the results.
There is one significant problem many companies have with these tests. They are quite costly to do. For a full-blown Type III test using multiple test and control trucks, one nationally recognized testing laboratory charges well over $100,000. That’s a huge amount for any operation, much less one just starting out. Even a test using two Class 6 or 7 six-wheelers requires days of preparation and testing, paying two or more drivers and a team of technical support people. Even a basic Type II test could cost $20,000 or more. That’s why many companies with good products elect to market without the tests, relying instead on word of mouth and numerous testimonials.
However, the TMC/SAE tests remain the gold standard for fuel economy testing. Every time someone approaches me at a truck show or through e-mail about how their new fuel-saving device is so absolutely terrific that I “just have to write about it to do my readers a favor,” I ask to see the results of their TMC/SAE tests. They show me everything but.
I usually wind up promising to give their product the coverage it deserves as soon as they show me results of tests done according to industry-accepted procedures. I even tell them where to get copies of the Recommended Practices and suggest consultants who will conduct the tests for them.
Do you know how many actually come back with valid test results? Until early this year, the answer was a resounding none.
Who uses this test procedure?
The test procedure is used regularly. Several major fleets use this procedure prior to bringing new items into their specifications. Tire companies use it when they have a new fuel-saving tire product. TMC itself has used it to examine the effect of speeds. Oil companies have used it to determine the improvements new formulations bring.
In February, Mark Rossow of Advanced Fluid Solutions (www.advancedfluidsolutions.com) called to tell me that Claude Travis conducted tests on EXP4 Diesel Fuel Additive and EXP4 Oil Enhancer. Claude is an SAE member and a TMC-recognized associate. He is an independent consultant with an impeccable reputation. He was the driving force behind the creation of these tests.
Travis tested the EXP4 system last December, during an unusual cold snap in Michigan. The system consists of a fuel additive and oil conditioners. With EXP4 Oil Enhancer used in the engine oil, transmission, drive axle and wheel ends, and the EXP4 product in the fuel tank, total benefit was more than 2.6 percent.
That may not sound like much, but if you get 6 mpg for 100,000 miles a year (16,667 gallons), your mpg will increase to 6.16, and you’ll save about 433 gallons annually. At $1.49 per gallon, that’s $645. Tests were in a Class 7. With a 6 X 4 tractor and one extra axle to take the additive, results should be better. Is it a worthwhile savings? That will depend on what you’ll have to pay for the product. You have to do the math for yourself.
What is important to note is that Advanced Fluid Solutions is the first, and so far the only company to come to Land Line and say, “I used the industry-accepted tests. Here are my results.”
Paul Abelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.