by Collyn Rivers
Fortunately less seen nowadays, vehicle fuel savers do not work. This article explains why.
A 2006 such scam (of about US$100 million globally) involved just such a pill. It was claimed to save ‘up to 42%’. But, that being sold was not a fuel saver. It was $100,000 franchises to sell it. Initial franchises funded the promotion for selling for sub-franchisees. And at various levels.
This book explains all. It finally exposed the scam.
Despite losing their money, many franchise buyers maintained the useless pill worked. Moreover even, that subsequent legal intervention was a ‘fuel industry conspiracy’.
Useless such products continue to sell. Not all vendors are cynical. Many believe that claimed. Few, however, appear to self-test the product, or if they do, to misconstrue the result/s.
Many such scams work that way. When enough franchises and sub-franchisees are deemed sold (and the latter realising they have been conned, promotion ceases. Whether the ‘product’ works is irrelevant. That being really sold are franchises. They typical cost $100,000 dollars or so. Early franchisees are lucky. But many later buyers may lose their life savings.
Known as Ponzi schemes, all are a form of fraud that attracts gullible investors. Dividends do not come from sales. They are from payments from later investors. Such investors are unaware of that source of such ‘profits’.
The problem with spotting a Ponzi scheme is that it appears to be a sustainable business. It works whilst new investors contribute new funds. Many continue to exist and expand – as long as most investors do not seek full repayment. Or remain unaware that assets they are purported to own are non-existent.
The Ponzi scheme concept is very old. Charles Dickens describes it in his (1844) novel Martin Chuzzlewit. It became known as Ponzi in the USA in the 1920s. Then, Charles Ponzi made a huge amount of money by legitimately selling the right to resell international reply coupons for postage stamps. He then began using new investors’ money to pay earlier investors and himself. His downfall came when newspapers worldwide described what he was doing.
Fuel savers do not work – why the belief?
Psychologist Leon Festinger says people ‘attempt to reconcile poor-fitting beliefs and actions by self-justification’. ‘That XYZ works! It cost me $250. And I’m no fool’.
This likewise occurs with sales staff. A salesperson may switch from selling Audis to selling BMWs. Overnight he/she is self-convinced the BMW is now better. Many owners do the same.
Fuel savers do not work – engine computer chips can mislead
Claims for fuel-saving devices include increased power and torque. These claims are mutually exclusive. Vehicle engineers design for the most probable uses. The associated computer control chips thus optimise engine longevity, power and fuel consumption for such usage. Replacement chips can increase torque and/or power. But if that increase is used, it increases fuel consumption. It also decreases the vehicle’s likely working life. Were it otherwise, the vehicle designer would have done so. Many of today’s cars, however, have user-selectable options. These enable the owner to decide.
Fuel savers do not work – magnetic alignment/polarisation
The earlier misleading promotion included ‘magnetically aligning’ fuel particles. Fuels are non-magnetic. No such alignment is possible. Despite this, the ‘Brock Energy Polarizer’ had bar magnets claimed to ‘align every molecule in the vehicle to reduce noise, vibration and suspension harshness’. Furthermore, it claimed to allow the vehicle to run on low octane fuel. For reasons unclear, General Motors (Australia) produced and sold 170 ‘Brock version’ Holdens. It did so without first checking with its engineers. That (to put it mildly) caused ‘corporate embarrassment’. Holden and Brock parted company.
The infamous Brock Energy Polariser.
Fuel savers do not work – a car ‘running on water’
I personally such a scam in the 1970s in my Electronics Today International (ETI) magazine. It was of a virtually standard car claimed to ‘run on water’. The claim was officially supported by Jo Bjelke-Petersen, Queensland’s then Premier. Furthermore, politicians and magazine journalists reported how well it worked. Some commented on its smoothness. But none queried its physics.
My staff and I arranged to check the vehicle. The seemingly all-but standard car towed a trailer that held a large water tank. A hose ran from that tank to the car’s slightly modified carburettor.
We had good look at that trailer and found it also contained lead-acid batteries. Further checking showed these powered an electrolyser (a device that electrically produces hydrogen from water).
As an ex-automobile research engineer, I knew that petrol engines also run well on hydrogen. It seemed that the Bjelke-mobile did likewise. We then found the ‘water feed pipe’ to the car fed that hydrogen. A nearby battery charger indicated that the battery bank was charged from the electricity grid.
We made no comment at the time. A month later we published what we had found – with a photo on magazine’s front page. The Queensland government withdrew support. The Premier later resigned (over other matters).
Occasionally, major breakthroughs do result in overall gains. Turbo-charging works by exploiting otherwise wasted exhaust gas energy. In the 1970s, car companies claimed it as a breakthrough. Here again, promotion misleads. It was far from 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.
Carmakers reduce fuel usage by a large number of usually tiny 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. Were any ‘fuel-saver’ to work they would exploit it.
Radial-ply tyres were a rare exception. That radial-ply construction substantially reduced heat-producing tread and sidewall flexing. It reduced fuel usage by about 3%. This is a huge saving, for example, for heavy transport vehicles.
Reducing vehicle weight, air drag etc saves yet more.
Virtually halving fuel usage has taken twenty or so years. It involved massive worldwide effort and staggering cost. Yet ‘true believers’ claim only marginally less is achieved via a 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 (in 1950s Jowett delivery vans) by an (optional) washer in the air inlet manifold. This restricted air and fuel draw. What little performance existed marginally enhanced by removing the washer. But, if that extra performance was then used, fuel consumption increased accordingly.
Fuel savers do not work – errors in perception
Many vehicle owners claim fuel consumption to several decimal places. Fuel consumption, however, is hard to measure. Temperature and barometric pressure changes vary fuel tank content. Fuel pumps and gauges are not 100% accurate. Filling station forecourts are not always level. Minor changes in driving affect fuel consumption. Owner-estimated fuel consumption is thus likely to be plus/minus 3%-5%.
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, half of Vauxhall’s test fleet drivers were told their cars were ‘tuned for economy’. Those drivers consistently used less fuel. All the cars, however, had retained standard settings. (I worked there and organised that test).
Advertorial can mislead
Editorial is increasingly suspect. Almost all ‘product reviews’ are paid for as part of an ‘advertorial package’. Some magazines openly offer it. The charge (in 2020) is about $2500 a page.
Many Internet forums have a few people offering sound advice. Many, however, are swamped by true believers, and the ‘it’s just common sense’ brigade. Much such stuff is wrong. Some are potentially dangerous. Many forum posts have content that defies the laws of physics. Campfire discussions can be similar.
John F. Kennedy’s commencement address to Yale University in 1962 expresses 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’. In effect that people can, and will, not just change attitudes to justify changes in conditions – but truly believe in that which they have done.
My books and articles carry no advertising or promotion (other than for my books). These are Caravan & Motorhome Book, Camper Trailer Book, Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. My Solar That Really Works is for cabins and RVs. Solar Success is for home and property systems. Bio.