Mistakes in the Mythbusters' episode on fuel economy devices
Mythbusters, a popular TV show on the Discovery Channel, tried to bust the myth that there are devices out there that can dramatically improve your fuel economy. I think Mythbusters made a lot of mistakes in the episode with claims about hydrogen, used vegetable oil and EPA testing. I also think they did bad experiments and should have done more research.
Lets start with hydrogen: As you can see in the above video, after making a car turn over by hosing hydrogen into the carburetor, Adam proclaims "I guess you could, if you had a lot of hydrogen, run your engine completely without any other modification." The experiment they did is interesting but there is no reason to make the claim that a car can run unmodified on hydrogen. Who would consider the installation of a hydrogen fuel tank on a car un-modified anyway? They could have mentioned hydrogen combustion engines and fact that there is serious research on using hydrogen in gas cars.
Now, about the used vegetable oil. Adam got used vegetable oil from a restaurant, filtered it and ran a diesel car on it. They claim just 10 percent less fuel economy and Adam said "we did not make any modifications to this car. That means anybody who had a diesel car could just pure this stuff into the gas tank and it would run fine." Again, like the hydrogen experiment, interesting but it's not that simple. You can use vegetable oil in a diesel engine and it does work but there is a small industry of people that do conversions to diesel engines to make sure there are no long term damage to your car when running on VegOil. Why not mention them? Also, mileage really depends on the type of oil you use but I doubt a 10 percent reduction in fuel economy is accurate for everyone.
Go below the fold for more mistakes.
EPA testing. Adam and Jamie said the EPA tested over 100 devices and at best they only showed 6 percent improvement in fuel economy. I did a quick web search, found an EPA page with testing data of devices that promise to improve fuel economy and the first one I looked at "ACDS Automotive Cylinder Deactivation System (2)" said it showed fuel economy improvements of up to 20 percent. Why was this device not mentioned on Mythbusters? I am not defending these devices - most of them are crap - but why didn't the Mythbusters at least start with the ones that showed an improvement from the EPA testing?
Testing. If they did real tests instead of picking devices with crazy promises they would have found most don't work but some do improve fuel efficiency by small amounts even if they don't make sense economically or are not worth the hassle. The Mythbusters tested acetone added to gas, for example, and found no improvement but there are fuel additives that improve fuel economy because they are basically fuel, just not good ones. The myths you hear about these devices are not unfounded because the devices basically work and I really don't think it would have been that hard for Adam and Jamie to find one that worked. Maybe they thought busting the myth on the economics of using these technologies or retrofitting older cars with modern technology would have been boring?
The Mythbusters claims also went too far. The myth included the claim that the automakers and oil companies worked together to keep these devices from the market. They really did not get into this but the auto makers and oil companies did work together to kill the street car, for example, many years ago. There are serious claims brought up in the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" that would make anyone wonder why GM took the EV1 off the market. I don't think there is a conspiracy between oil and car companies because I don't they they need to work together; they have common interests. The car companies have reasons to keep electric cars off the market, for example, other than helping the oil companies keep the price of gas up. The lucrative repair market for gas cars compared to electric cars is a good reason for the automakers not to make electric cars.
Besides their claims, their methods were also very questionable as well. Before making the claim that you can run your engine on hydrogen un-modified, the Mythbusters did not completely drain the engine of gasoline and got a false result with a hydrogen hydrolysis device. They did nothing to make sure this did not happen again or find a way to measure the amount of gas in the engine. After trying to hose hydrogen into the carburetor again, there is a small, accidental explosion. Someone is going to get seriously hurt on this show because they do not consider safety much. The point of the show almost seems to be, "Hey, let's do unsafe stuff."
I understand the show is just entertainment and not scientific research but there is an aura of science and they need to stop making grandiose claims and do some research. I give them credit for considering the myth but they got the myth of the fuel efficiency devices so wrong ... which only confirms the myth they Mythbusters were paid off by the oil companies. Just kidding :D I think their most major mistake is taht they did experiments and presented information that supported their ideas before they started the experiments. That's not science. In fact, that's the opposite of science.
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