Let’s take a break from our walk through automotive 101 and dwell on a maintenance query that has been on the table for quite sometime. The query is about the use of fuel additives. I have come across this issue several times and it concerns both gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. It usually goes like this… A guys says he just had an oil change, changed the sparkplugs, air filter and fuel filter. But still, the engine doesn’t seem to perform as well as it did when it was brand new, even though it has less than 60,000 kilometers on the odometer. Some can argue that the problem could lie in carbon deposit buildup as cars now usually spend a lot of time in heavy traffic. Yes, that could be. Keep in mind that a vehicle should be allowed to run at speed, on the highway, from time to time to clear out those carbon deposits. Car aficionados call this routine a good old Italian tune up.
Sometimes, however, even an Italian tune up is not enough. If you walk through the automotive section of ‘do it yourself’ hardware stores, you would see on display different fuel additives. You will come across brands like MAG 1, STP, ABRO, Liquimoly, Blue Chem etc… you kind of wonder if they really work or if you really need them.
Well, there is some debate going on, if we really need them, or not. Diesel engines, for example… some calibration shops do not recommend using diesel fuel additives. They say that it doesn’t work and it does more harm to the injection pumps. So whenever there is a problem with a diesel engine; no power, high fuel consumption, rough idle, and black smoke coming from the exhaust pipe… they immediately say the injection pump needs to be calibrated; or have the nozzles replaced. Ouch! That’s very expensive. But even after doing all that, the problem still remains.
We often overlook the issue of bad or dirty fuel. A well-known shop once said that a good number of times, diesel engine problem is frequently fuel related. And with that, I agree. Sometimes switching to a cleaner fuel makes a big difference in performance. Clean fue/better fuel is another story. A manufacturer can claim that their product is the best in the market. Yes, that may be. But the issue between the refinery and your fuel tank is another question. The location of your favorite gas station and the way it is managed can make a big difference.
Water contamination… This is a major concern for us as this can do damage to our engines. It can cause rust to form in the fuel system and the internals of our engine. A certain amount is allowed to be present in our fuel. That is why a good fuel filter is highly recommended. You would usually see fuel station workers get samples from their storage tanks and check for water contamination. Some recommend that you drain your tank at least once a year, if your car has some miles on it. If your tank doesn’t have a drain plug, you could use the fuel additives (fuel system cleaners). Some stations add additives to their stocked fuel, that either collects all the water in the fuel to allow it to pass through the fuel system and getsburned together with the fuel, or is collected in the fuel filter. Usually if there is a performance problem with a diesel engine; black smoke, no power… and the fuel filter has just been changed, I would recommend adding some diesel injector cleaner or fuel system cleaner. If the symptoms disappear, then it’s most likely to be a fuel related problem. Yes, this approach is good for those with mechanical injection pumps and CRDi. If I am not mistaken, Blue Chem and Liquimoly has a fuel system cleaner for CRDi engines. If you ask me if I use them, yes, I do. I use it on my mom’s Innova at least twice a year.
For those with gasoline powered cars ,having a fuel related problem could be nightmare. I remember one CRV had corrosion at the sparkplugs. The source was contaminated fuel. The tank was drained, sparkplugs changed and they changed gas stations. One or two bottles of fuel additives was added just to make sure that the fuel system was clean. One product that I just tried recently is a fuel injector cleaner by MAG1. I saw their booth at a car show last year and they sent me an email of their product line. I was servicing a 1GFE engine and I needed to drain the fuel tank. The tank didn’t have a drain plug so I opted to use a fuel system cleaner and change the fuel filter often. While changing the fuel filter regularly, I noticed that dirt caught by the filter was getting to be minimal. But the idle was a bit rough. I went back to the email of MAG1 and saw one of their products, ‘fuel injector cleaner w/ jet fuel.’ One bottle was enough. It made a huge difference. That saved the owner from taking down the injectors for cleaning. For the record, I bought the MAG1 fuel injector cleaner at ACE hardware at Market Market, BGC. I use different brands of fuel system cleaners and the have work well for specific applications. Since I couldn’t get hold of my usual brand, I decided to try MAG1 out. Clogging of injector nozzles are a common problem with fuel injected cars. This could lead to carbon build up in the cylinder and build up along the valves. If the problem is really bad, you could try one of those carbon clean services. If the problem is extremely bad, you would have to have your injectors brought down. Use of an additive is no longer the answer to a clogged nozzle. Additives just help prevent clogging and carbon buildup. The nozzles, at some point, would need to be brought down and serviced.
As a precaution, read the instructions carefully before using any kind of additives. It took me months before I decided to use a different brand. If you’re not sure, try and get in touch with us. Maybe we could try and get feed back from the distributor to help solve your problem.