• 109
Auto parts store. Alamy©

The word “alchemy” is defined as “medieval chemistry.” A survey of synonyms reveals terms like allurement, conjuring, enchantment, hocus-pocus and abracadabra -- all references to magic. But the belief in fantastic fixes for your automotive woes can only lead to one unpleasantly real trick, and that’s making your money disappear.

As the economy has plummeted and the recovery has stagnated, it seems that companies promising false hope are on the rise. In the automotive realm, these are the firms peddling formulas that claim to solve various mechanical problems such as engine knocks, transmission slippage and oil consumption. Some even claim that their products will enable your car’s engine to harmlessly run without oil. Preying on the ignorance and wishful desires of the public, these products are snake oil of the first order.

Let’s shine some light onto these product claims and expose them, so you don’t get suckered by such foolishness. There’s no such thing as a “Mechanic in a Can” to solve mechanical problems.

1. Fuel Mileage Enhancers

Many products have been “developed” to improve fuel mileage. Just pour the stuff into the fuel tank, they say, claiming improvements of 20 percent or more. But the only one laughing all the way to the bank will be the companies hawking these products, because they don’t work.

The EPA has evaluated the following fuel additives, finding absolutely no improvement in mileage for any of them: Bycosin, EI-5 Fuel Additive, Fuelon Power, Johnson Fuel Additive, NRG #1 Fuel Additive, QEI 400 Fuel Additive, Rolfite Upgrade Fuel Additive, Sta-Power Fuel Additive, Stargas Fuel Additive, SYNeRGy-1, Technol G Fuel Additive, ULX-15/ULX-15D, Vareb 10 Fuel Additive, XRG #1 Fuel Additive.

2. Fuel System Cleaners

There are many fuel system cleaners on the market that claim they clean your fuel system of deposits and carbon buildup by simply adding the product to the fuel tank. Do they work? To understand the question, we need to take a closer look at the nature of these deposits.

The deposits that build up on the inside of the fuel delivery system are the result of varnish deposits from fuel flow. These tough deposits can only be removed by applying equally tough, aggressive cleaning agents, much tougher than those found in cans that cost a few bucks. Carbon buildup is the result of unburned gasoline that forms a rock-hard deposit on the inside of the engine where fuel flows. As more gasoline soaks into the carbon and combustion fire hardens it, the more difficult it is to remove from the inside of the engine. The only way to remove such buildup is to soak it with industrial grade cleaners in order to dissolve it and blow it out the tail pipe. Again, such chemical strength is not found in a can.

Only a professional fuel system cleaning can clean fuel delivery systems effectively. During a professional fuel delivery/carbon cleaning, an industrial grade cleaner is injected into the fuel system through the fuel rail or intake manifold while the engine is running. This process cleans the rail, intake plenum, injectors, valves, cylinder head and piston tops. Then a high grade cleaner is added to the fuel tank to clean the fuel lines, pickup assembly, screen, and pump.

3. Engine Oil Additives

Years ago I "threw down the gauntlet" to the companies that produce lubricant enhancers. My challenge? Present to me solid, scientific proof that their elixirs really do lengthen the life of an internal combustion engine. What do I get? Countless testimonial letters from people that claim they have run their engines dry of oil. Then, in response to an article I wrote, I got an e-mail from a reader who suggests I view a website that offers "scientific proof" that a particular oil additive works. The site presented more personal testimonies reminiscent of late night infomercial programming.

It seems that everyone is looking for the magic elixir, the "Engine Extender," the "Fountain of Youth," the "Mechanic in a Can." Is this a reasonable quest? Companies that make these products claim that by using their oil additive, the oil in your engine performs better and lasts longer. Unfortunately, the intense claims of these products give people a false sense of security. As a result, people put off oil and filter changes and the consequence is often premature engine failure.

Consumer Reports once duplicated the test seen in the infomercial for the engine-oil additive Prolong to see if the product really did offer extra engine protection. The commercial said it added Prolong to the engine's oil supply, then drained the oil and ran the car with no oil plugs or filters. The product makers say they ran the car with no oil for four hours without damaging the engine. (The infomercial has a small-print disclaimer: "Never run your car without oil or water”).

Testers at Consumer Reports used two former taxicabs with rebuilt GM V6 engines when they duplicated the infomercial test. After breaking the engines in, and changing their oil, they added Prolong to only one car, and drove them both more than 100 miles. Then they drained the oil and removed the filters, just like in the infomercial. Next, testers drove the cars around a test track to see what would happen. "We drove the cars around the test track at speeds between 20 and 30 miles per hour," Consumer Reports tester Marc McEntee said. "We were able to go for 13 minutes, 5 miles, until both cars died within about 100 yards of one another." Testers later took the engines apart. The damage to both cars, including the one with Prolong, was extensive.

The results are clear: Don't buy the oil additives and make sure to keep your eye on your oil change intervals. Changing your oil and filter every 3,000 miles is a rule of thumb, but longer intervals are okay for synthetics. You should always follow the recommendations of your vehicle manufacturer, and if your vehicle has an engine oil monitoring system, change your oil when it tells you to. This is the real secret to finding the Automotive Fountain of Youth.

4. Radiator Stop Leak

How do stop-leak products work? When installed in a cooling system, the stop leak product rushes through the cooling system under pressure to the site of the leak. When it exits the point of the leak, it builds up on itself, thus sealing up the leak. The problem? It only seals for a short time until either another leak springs or the existing leak gets larger. This is true for either an internal leak like a head gasket or an external leak in a radiator.

With a head gasket leak, either the gasket material has degraded or the metal is cracked or warped, resulting in a leak. In the case of a radiator leak, more often than not another leak will spring somewhere in the core in short order because wear and degradation is relative to the age of the unit. If you’re getting leaks, in the final analysis the engine has lost its sealing ability internally or externally. Mating and sealing surfaces or component integrity must be restored to stop the coolant leak.

In extreme cases the overuse of radiator stop leak can clog up the heater core and even stop the heater from working. It can also stop an entire bank of water jackets, resulting in a constant state of overheating. To solve this problem, the expansion plugs have to be removed from the entire engine block and the block has to be power-flushed in order to clean out the stop leak product. This stuff harms more cars than it fixes, period.

5. Transmission and Engine Oil Stop Leak

These products are supposed to stop engine oil and transmission fluid leaks when added to the oil. They work by softening the hardened rubber seals that have shrunk away from their sealing surfaces. When softened, the rubber seals swell and fit tightly to the metal sealing surface, stopping the fluid leaks. Once the chemical product wears out, which will always happen in short order, the seals return to their hard state and the fluid starts leaking again. The only way to solve these sorts of problems is to restore gasket and seal mating surfaces, which means a rebuild.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 109 Comments
      • 3 Months Ago
      Don't be what allot of mechanics think you are!....DUMB. Inform yourself. Take the time to learn and understand certain aspects of your vehicle. Sometimes I think it should be a requirement to drive. This would especially be helpful to finance companies who end up with a broke down car and lose money because some people opt not to fix the problem or decide not to continue making their payments. From my experiences 90% percent of all major mechanical repairs can be prevented by doing the proper timely maintenance and paying attention to irregularities or changes in the behavior and function of you car. If a person is dumb enough to get taken advantage of such as, letting anyone put used oil into your car...they deserve it. If you were even slightly concerned about it or were suspicious, you would know where to look to see if the filter was replace and how to check and see that the oil was fresh and clean. Don't get dooped by anyone. Be informed and educated but don't argue with your technician if he suggests looking into a potential problem. Look into it and have them explain to you what is wrong. How it works and what it will take to fix it reasonably. Most techs will be more than willing to do this and if not, find one that will. Take care of your vehicles and GOOD LUCK!
      Mark
      • 3 Months Ago
      you should youtube "jiffy lube scam" and see the scammers at work
      • 3 Months Ago
      Unfortunately LUCAS and SEAFOAM are alcohol and solvent cleaners. You cant go by the name petroleum distillates. All that means its a distilled form of petroleum. the coating on a laxative is petroluem distillate. And Lucus is keeping your injectors clean its the ethanol acohol in todays fue. What happens is the alcohol in fuel washes the olefins ( wax particles used to blend to hold heavy and light hydrocarbons together) thru the injector and it sticks to the valve. Unfortuneatly all lucs and seafoam do it change the fuel in your tank and make seem like your cars runs better until you fill up again.. Thats how alcohol / solvents work. or they chuck off carbon and hang valves or plug you cat. Techron from chevron was scientifically design with POLY-ETHER-AMINE. Thats the active cleaner NOT alcohol or solvents like 98% of the stuff you all buy off the shelf. BG PRODUCTS uses a patented formula of poly-ether-amine and is the only product to work. It cleans valve, combustion chamber O2 sensors, and your cat from varnish and carbon, SCIENTIFICALL PROVEN !!!! If you ask any of these companies for a government ASTEM test result they cant. They will give their own test results but never from a third party. All of BG PRODUCTS are proven scientifically thru astm test and in the real world. Unlike seafoam Lucas or the rest that dont do much of anything ( use them and do a boreascope to see for yourself) except use marketing to make you believe diffrent. If you like the Oil stabilizer you will love BG's MOA. Also look at how much you need to use, the more at once the less active ingredients. Lucas oil stabilizer makes you use like 50% product and 50% oil. That tells you its mostly base oil. And why would want more ethanol in your fuel when its cause the fuel to breakdown instantly do to electrolysis. Fuel sensors sent out current and ethonal is a cunductor and transfers the current thru the fuel breaking it down, so thats niot a good thing to add more ethonal. All i can say is being a fuel and lubrication specialist- most products dont work at all, BUT BG Does. www.bgprod.com www.bgfueltest.com www.bgfindashop.com. KNOW YOUR FACTS AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR CAR BY EDUCATING YOURSELF FIRST.
      • 3 Months Ago
      I use Lucas Fuel Systems Treatment....It really helps my engine...I also use in combination a Tornado and a K & N Air Filter for my 1983 Chevy S-10 P/U with a 2.8L GM V-6....Talk about mileage improvement and a little more boost of horse-power!!! Granted some vehicles don't need a Tornado...But Trucks should have one!!!... I also use Lucas Heavy Duty Oil Treatment
      • 3 Months Ago
      barsleak does work but they are right it will clog the heater core i have heard multiple people that have clogged their heater cor by using barsleak. the best thing to use for a temporary fix of a leaky radiator is pepper just regular ground pepper the little cardboard tube is just the right amount it does the same thing as bars leak only it wont stay in for quite as long so yes you will have to replace the radiator in a couple months but the heater core will be fine cause the pepper will flush out with a coolant flush
      • 3 Months Ago
      This is an unbalanced article as everyone can see by the comments. It looks like some additives are working but the ones that do have not been mentioned in the tests on which this article has been based. It would be honest to withdraw the article until all additives have been tested and with all I mean all of a similar composition.
      Ed
      • 3 Months Ago
      Excuse me...did any of you nimrods actually read this gentleman's article? He mentions that faith and voodoo does not fix engines. His point is that there is no scientific proof. Unless you have some, then your comment is meaningless.
      • 3 Months Ago
      I had a discovery this year. My boat which had sat unused for two years had fuel which was badly varnish tainted in spite of using marine gas protectant. I was about to drain the tank but heard about a product that would help. I put Star Tron enzyme fuel treatment in the tank and allowed it to sit for 48 hours. I started the boat and it ran fine. Changed the fuel filter again (it had previously plugged up with varnish sludge) and no more varnish visable, and the varnish smell was gone. I was able to burn the gas and had normal performance...
      • 3 Months Ago
      to Ripsellers: yes it works. I use airplane fuel or turbo-blue in my street rods; burns much cleaner. However to those that use too much? It will MELT fuel pumps, hoses and anything else in the way. Use recommended ammount!
      • 3 Months Ago
      So, are you saying that a high grade industrial cleaner added while the engine is running will clean it out?! Hey, thats what the bottle says too!! ..anyway, what will clean my fuel injectors? Thanks for all the hep.
      • 3 Months Ago
      Our polotics, our commerce, our culture, is this the American way? More and more it looks to be so, but the scariest part about it is that people are not critical of themselves but very critical of the "bad guys". This is domestic terrorism because at the end of the day it's just a greedy human being deceiving you to come to their way of thinking. Why not just be honest and tell the truth? It's easy if you choose truth over greed. Thank you for articles like this.
      • 3 Months Ago
      We must look at ourselves for a little blame here as well. Our own ignorance makes this possible.
    • Load More Comments