Buyer beware: snake oil, additives and other elixirsWritten by Nick Shultz | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the way to work the other day, I had a terrible headache so I stopped at the Wal-Mart near the expressway exit with the intent of getting a bottle of aspirin.
The aisle containing the aspirin is situated not too far from the automotive section, so naturally I found myself side-tracked down the row after row of automotive-related products. I believe it was in the second aisle of engine oil additives that the epiphany hit me. Granted this sudden realization of the greater meaning of automotive sciences may have been aided by the numbed state of my intellect brought on by the pounding headache. Nonetheless, it was an epiphany just the same, and that clarity of meaning still remains with me long after the aspirin has quelled my headache.
I believe that, perhaps for the first time in my career, I became aware of the vast quantities of additives that are available for our automotive systems. Most of these automotive oil, fuel, transmission and coolant additives claim to solve the various mechanical abnormalities that plague our vehicles.
If your car lacks power, there are products on those shelves that will restore your engine’s lost power and even give you a 20 to 30 percent increase above that amount your vehicle had when it was new. Is fuel mileage an issue? Just pick a can of miracle juice off the shelf and, depending on how much money you want to spend, you can get an extra three to 10 miles per gallon. If your car is running rough you don’t need to waste money on a technician. You can buy a Tune-Up in a can for just $8.95. The deluxe Tune-Up can be had for an additional $5. Don’t worry about your transmission slipping. There are several cans of Trans Glue that will fixer-up for ya!
Just dump a can in the transmission and all will be well. The magic glue will only set you back $19.95 for the first treatment or $34.95 for the complete kit. This is far less money than the local transmission shop is going to charge.
I am not sure why I had not noticed them before. Perhaps I was aware of them subconsciously but, similar to an annoying ache in our bodies, I’d simply deny their existence.
Whatever my reasons were before my awakening, I can no longer ignore that there are huge numbers of additives available to the public. Nearly all of those products have absolutely no value whatsoever and are a waste of hard-earned money. The unfortunate reality is they may damage your engine or fuel system irreparably. Instead of a minor transmission repair, you might end up with a major overhaul as a result of their use. The sheer number of different products on the market stuns me even as I write this column.
The claims that most of these product manufacturers make is pretty amazing. “You can get up to 20 percent increase in horsepower” or “a 10 to 25 percent increase in fuel efficiency” are just a couple of the ads you will find on the product packaging.
In some cases, the packaging that these miracle products come in must surely cost more to produce than the products themselves. The scientific evidence found on many of the products must rival that presented within Scientific American magazine. At least it appears that way to a reader who is unaware of the ridiculous claims being made. As I read the evidence presented on the packaging, I found myself beginning to believe much of the hype myself. The techno babble makes it sound so convincing.
Many of these products have endorsements from some pretty big names from within the automotive industry. I am reminded that Tiger Woods is paid millions of dollars to wear Nike clothing. Do you really think these celebrities are endorsing these products out of the graciousness of their hearts?
Nonetheless, regardless of the endorsements and nonscientific evidence, I managed to leave the store without so much as a single purchase of these miracle products. I did, however, buy that bottle of aspirin that I now needed more than ever.
I wrote down several of the names of those products before I left the store and began my research almost immediately upon returning to my office. What I found, I hope, will astound you.
I now know that many of these products have been tested either by independent testing labs hired by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In nearly every case, no enhanced engine performance or fuel efficiency was noticed by the testing facilities, and in many cases, the exact opposite occurred. In some of the products, engine damage and catastrophic engine failure occurred as a result of their use.
My research showed that the FTC had brought legal action against many familiar name-brand products, and many unfamiliar products as well, regarding their claims and in many cases had settled for millions of dollars in damages out of court. It is clear that the billions of dollars being made off these products each year could warrant such large cash settlements by the additive manufacturers.
The simple fact is that engine oil manufacturers spend huge amounts of money on research and development of their respective products. The balance of chemicals within their oils is tightly controlled from one batch of oil to the next. The primary reason is that the crude stock from which these high-tech oils are refined varies dramatically from one shipment of crude to another. Therefore, each of the oil manufacturers finds themselves continuously adjusting the mixture in order to achieve the desired concentrations of specific chemical ingredients based on the crude stock they receive.
Adding an aftermarket oil additive upsets the balance of these oils and in a worst-case scenario can end up creating a fluid that very rapidly destroys your engine. Unfortunately, in many cases, the results of the additives adverse effects cannot be immediately seen. The integrity of your fuel and oil systems deteriorates gradually over time.
Fuel additives have the same inherent problems. If you really want to clean your injectors, try upgrading the fuel you purchase for a short period of time or have them professionally cleaned by a competent technician with proper equipment. Adding one of the many snake oils on the market could end up costing you major amounts of money.
I realize that there are many car buffs out there that have used some of these products for years with varying degrees of success. They may tell you I am crazy and this or that product really works. Unfortunately, legitimate scientific research does not support their claims.
This is not to say that all additives are bad. There are a few legitimate products on the market that were designed for specific purposes. You will find that those products do not make unrealistic claims, and their manufacturers strongly urge you to use their products only as they direct and usually only for a short period of time.
Please remember that most of the FTC law suits came about because huge fleets had used these products in an attempt to increase fuel mileage or engine longevity only to find that the exact opposite occurred. The snake oils and elixirs cost those fleets millions of dollars in repairs and lost revenues.
I hope Toledo Free Press readers are not caught up by all these wild claims and hype.
Nick Shultz is an instructor of Automotive Technologies at Owens Community College. He is an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau who specializes in cases involving the Ohio and Michigan Lemon laws. He is a certified master automotive technician by ASE, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. Shultz, a Toledo native, will take questions at email@example.com.