ByTrey Granger

Mar 26, 2018

As gas prices trend upward, you may be wondering about ways to maximize the fuel economy in your car. One commonly assumed option is adding a gasoline additive when you fill the tank, and there are plenty on the market.

In fact, it’s estimated the fuel additive market will reach over $11 billion by 2024, with environmental concerns one of the top reasons. This leads to the question: Are fuel additives actually eco-friendly?

What Is a Fuel Additive?

Simply put, fuel additives are products that will increase gasoline’s octane rating (so you can buy 87 octane and get the benefits of 89 or 91 octane) or help prevent engine corrosion. They have been around since 1970, when Chevron gas featured a new additive called polybutene amine, marketed as F-310.

F-310 was promoted as reducing emissions by up to 50 percent and increasing fuel economy by up to 7.7 percent. This product has eventually been modified into Techron, arguably the most recognizable fuel additive today.

For F-310, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated claims of deceptive advertising, and Chevron ended up pulling the campaign. Ever since, the FTC has kept tabs on how fuel additives promote their benefits to consumers.

This hasn’t stopped the market from developing. Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires gasoline additive companies to register their products, we know that there are more than 10,000 fuel additives on sale today. Not surprisingly, over 100 have the word “green” in the company or product name.

How Are Additives Regulated?

The additive registration process does not include testing for fuel economy increases or emissions reductions, although manufacturers must include the chemical composition of additives. The EPA makes a point to say that even though a product is registered, that doesn’t imply an EPA endorsement of its benefits.

However, the EPA does have a voluntary testing program called the Evaluation Program for Aftermarket Retrofit Devices, where manufacturers allow their additives to be tested to verify marketing claims. So far, 92 fuel additives have been tested, most recently in 2005, and most have had either “a neutral or negative effect on fuel economy and/or exhaust emissions.”

For some companies, the FTC may step in and challenge claims. This was the case in 2013, when the manufacturer of EnviroTabs was fined $800,000 for stating its product increases fuel efficiency and reduces emissions.

When to Use Fuel Additives

While the jury is still out on improved fuel economy, there are a few areas where fuel additives have been shown to help your car:

  1. Fuel stabilizers can be used in seasonal vehicles (boats, RVs) or classic cars to preserve the gasoline over time.
  2. Fuel injection cleaners are helpful if most of a commute is via short trips where the engine doesn’t heat enough to burn off the carbon that accumulates over time.

Fuel additives have their place if your goal is to beat Vin Diesel in a drag race, but there isn’t much evidence that they will save you at the gas pump or produce fewer emissions. If that’s your goal, here are 11 free steps you can take while driving.

By Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.