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MSU profs debunk gas savers
Cow magnets: Too good to be true
By Dylan Thomas, Free Press Staff Writer [published in The Free Press, Mankato]
Photo by John Cross
Automotive and Manufacturing Engineering Technology professor Bruce Jones holds two products that supposedly increase gas mileage: in his left hand, a cow magnet; and in his right hand, an Economizer. The Minnesota State University professor has spent years debunking the gas-saving claims of these and other products.
MANKATO â€" Since the days of the Arab Oil Embargo, whenever rising fuel prices have driven people to try dubious technologies promising better gas mileage, two Minnesota State University professors have tested and debunked them.
Automotive and Manufacturing Engineering Technology professor Bruce Jones and professor emeritus Kirk Ready have tested many gas-mileage enhancers over the years and have yet to find one that makes a significant difference.
From magnets to fuel additives, anything that claims to dramatically improve fuel efficiency is probably too good to be true, Ready said. "If it were that easy, every car sold would already have it," Ready said.
At best, Ready said, some of the technologies may have a minor effect if used as part of regular maintenance. At worst, the technologies are bogus.
One of the first claims he tested, and "probably the biggest hoax," was placing cow magnets on or near the fuel line to improve gas mileage. The magnets - used by cattle farmers to safely collect any metal objects their animals might ingest - would supposedly ionize gas for better fuel distribution, Ready explained.
Ready said his test results, however, were conclusive: "It makes absolutely no difference."
While the gas-mileage enhancers on the market today are more sophisticated, they still routinely wither under Ready's and Jones' scrutiny. Still, especially when gas prices go up, those who sell gas-mileage enhancers find a public willing to try anything to save at the pump.
"The products go in cycles with gas prices," Ready said.
Ready said gas-mileage enhancing technologies fall into several categories.
One category is devices that alter a vehicle's air intake, like the Tornado Fuel Saver, advertised online for about $70. "Supposedly it gets the air spinning for better fuel economy," Ready explained. Local auto experts, however, were skeptical.
Mankato Advance Auto Parts manager Chris Fahey called the Tornado "overrated."
Mankato Midas Auto Service manager Rick Kruse suggested such devices might even damage a vehicle over time.
The appeal of such devices, Ready guessed, is that they make extraordinary claims and are relatively easy to install. However, his research shows they make no difference, he said.
Ready said consumers should also be wary of fuel additives, another category of products that often claim to improve mileage. "If it's a cleanser and you have a problem with faulty fuel injectors, it might help," Ready said.
However, Ready said, "It's a maintenance issue, not a fuel economy issue" - like replacing spark plugs.
Speaking of spark plugs, products like the SplitFire Spark Plug - retailing for around $4 to $6 a piece online - should be avoided. Ready said MSU tests proved such souped-up spark plugs are a scam, and Kruse's real-life experience supported that finding.
"I won't even install them because they don't work," Kruse said.
Finally, Ready said oil-additives, made extra-slick with Teflon-like chemicals, are simply snake oil.
"Oil is basically just oil," Fahey said.
So, what works?
"Basically, for better fuel economy, nothing beats a smaller, lighter weight car," Ready said. Driving slower works, too, he added, even just 5 or 10 mph less on the highways.
Ready and the other auto experts also suggested regular tune-ups as a way to keep cars running at peak efficiency.
Kruse said even basic maintenance can have an effect. "You're going to gain 2 to 3 miles per gallon if you keep (your tires) pumped up like you're supposed to," he said. That advice comes from someone who has learned to be skeptical of gas mileage enhancing products.
Kruse said he picked up a couple of cow magnets at a tractor supply store in his youth. "I tried it and it didn't change anything," he said. "I thought, 'This is really stupid.'"