The number of gas tank additives on the market can be overwhelming. There’s no end to the number of products that promise you better fuel mileage, more power and longer engine life, when added to your fuel tank on a regular basis. Here’s the information on what should make it into your tank, and what should stay on the shelf.
Fuel System Cleaners
It’s true that, over time, some parts of your car’s fuel system — such as its injectors, valves and sometimes the fuel pump itself — can get gummed up with residue or deposits left behind by gasoline and incomplete combustion. There are several gas tank additives that consist of detergents specifically designed to clean these components. It’s not likely to be a big enough difference to notice from one fuel stop to the next, but over a month or so of driving these additives can have a positive impact.
Octane And Performance Boosters
There’s a persistent myth out there in the world of gas tank additives that “octane” is shorthand for “power” — or simply the more octane you can run in your car, the more horsepower your engine will make. Octane is actually a term used to measure how well your engine resists something called “knock,” which refers to the air/fuel mixture in a cylinder detonating before your spark plugs have a chance to fire.
Knock can damage an engine, and it certainly robs you of performance, but to take advantage of a high-octane, knock-resistant fuel, your motor has to be tuned more aggressively in the first place. In a motor that’s been tuned for regular 87-octane gas and that doesn’t have an adaptive computer system measuring knock resistance and adjusting engine timing to compensate, you’ll see zero benefit from this type of gas tank additive. But if you have an engine tuned to give more performance based on a higher octane fuel, an octane booster can be just the ticket. Also, if your engine requires a high octane fuel but there is none available at the local pumps, a can of octane booster is a great stop gap measure until you can fill up with the correct octane fuel.
Be Wary of What You Put in Your Tank
The basic idea is to make sure you know exactly what’s in the bottle before you dump it in your tank. Aggressive homemade chemical cocktails made with acetone and ethanol can eat away at rubber fittings and other fuel system components, which will lead to engine damage and a potentially expensive repair.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.