There are operating practices known to stretch a gallon of diesel further, and various additives that make similar claims. Likewise, there are devices that claim to help with fuel efficiency and, in some cases, provide more power. Because the devices are generally based on unfamiliar and sometimes odd technologies, a healthy skepticism is a normal response.
“There is a spectrum ranging from legitimate technology to snake oil when it comes to fuel-enhancing devices,” says Rick Ezell, of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle Fuel Emissions Lab in Ann Arbor, Mich. “The marketplace will figure out which works and which doesn’t.”
Most fuel-saving devices aspire to achieve more complete combustion. Some attempt this by trying to turn the fuel into a super-fine mist. Others aim for minimal air in the mix to improve the burn. The means to these ends can be mundane, or they can involve exotic-sounding substances or procedures, such as magnets, infrared rays, precious metals or rare earth elements used as catalysts.
Two devices that reduce air content in fuel are the FASS System and the Fuel Preporator. Fuel with 10 percent air in suspension is common, according to Caterpillar literature. But that’s also excessive and hurts performance, says Charles Ekstam, inventor of the Fuel Preporator.
“Air gets into any fuel system when fuel sloshes in the tank, when there is a change in altitude or in temperature,” he says. “The vacuum fuel system also allows air into the system. These conditions cause air and vapor in the pump and at the injectors. The Fuel Preporator creates constant pressure in the pump to compensate for the failure of fuel systems to maintain positive pressure and keep fuel free of air.”
Bill Downing, vice president of Bentex Corp. in Nashville, Tenn., has been using the Fuel Preporator on his fleet of 28 trucks for almost seven years. Bentex trucks run about 140,000 miles a year. “I have gotten between three-tenths of a mile per gallon increase in fuel mileage to almost a mile per gallon,” Downing says.
Bentex drivers report a one-gear improvement in power on hills. “We run 75,000 to 80,000 pounds very consistently,” Downing says. “Drivers, from the ones who get poor mileage to the driver with the best fuel mileage, tell me they see big increases in mileage and power. All the trucks are equipped with Pro Driver computer systems, so they know their fuel mileage.”
The newest Fuel Preporator model, which becomes available this month, costs $995; the older model is being closed out at $695.
Ekstam’s son, Brad Ekstam, produces a similar product, the FASS Fuel System, which costs $495. FASS literature says the product provides “positive fuel pressure to the injection pump and diesel fuel free from fuel vapor and entrained air.” Like the Preporator, the FASS System counters the effects of sloshing in the tank and the vacuum system.
While the makers of the Preporator and the FASS System make no formal claims about fuel economy increases, they say the units provide more power and cleaner exhaust. “Customers tell us they are getting four- to six-tenths of a mile per gallon more, but we sell the unit based on what we know it can do for performance,” says Brad Ekstam of FASS. “You can expect a gear and a half – about 30 to 35 more horsepower – and performance is consistent.”
Charles Behrens doesn’t mind the extra $200 he had to pay to change the cover on the fuel injection pump when he installed the FASS System on his International 9370 with a Cummins Big Cam 3. His fuel mileage, which used to vary from 4.8 to 5.2 miles per gallon, now is a consistent 5.7 mpg with the FASS, he says. “I have gained a full gear on hills, and I notice a significant decrease in smoke,” says Behrens, a 22-year owner-operator who runs 1,400 miles per week regionally at maximum gross all the time.
Owner-operator Larry Mena has experienced an increase of a half-mile per gallon since he started using the FASS System in June. His Kenworth T2000 has a 550-hp Cat 3406E and often pulls close to 80,000 pounds. Mena, who regularly pulls Tehachapi in California’s Sierra Nevadas, says he can now go 50 mph instead of 38 mph on the northernmost grade when loaded to capacity.
Another type of fuel-saver, the Turbo 3000D, changes air flow pattern to achieve a very fine mist rather than eliminating air from fuel.
“The device provides a highly atomized and even mist in the cylinder via the corkscrew air pattern,” says 3000D maker Andy Matuch. “Because the surface area of the fuel is increased as it comes into contact with air from the inlet valve in the cylinder, it burns more efficiently. We manage the combustion event to achieve clean, complete burn.”
Rick Perini, an independent engineering consultant, says that computational flow analysis indicates there is value to this approach. “There is some evidence from gas turbine engines that this generation of vapor by the counterclockwise corkscrew flow does improve efficiency,” he says.
The product is an inline tube installed on the fuel supply line as closely as possible to the injectors. Better fuel mileage, throttle response and power increases, as well as less smoke, have been reported, says Matuch. He says the 3000D takes about 30 days to clean out an engine before contributing fully to fuel efficiency.
Don Saltsman, owner of CTC Trucking in Cocoa, Fla., and a distributor for Turbo 3000D, has 44 trucks. Of those, 30 owner-operators are using the Turbo 3000D.
“All my owner-operators are reporting half a mile to a mile increase since February,” Saltsman says. “The (Cummins) N14s are getting between eight-tenths and 1 mpg more. The Detroits are getting about half a mile per gallon more.”
Bob Drummond, who runs for CTC and uses a 3000D, says his older B model Cat 425 previously had fuel economy of 4.5 to 5.0 mpg, but now gets 5.8 to 6.2. “The Cat runs much smoother and there is considerable more pulling power,” he says. CTC owner-operator Woody Fike’s Peterbilt 379, powered by a Series 60 Detroit 470, gets better fuel mileage, he says, and runs smoother, though he says he hasn’t noticed a power increase.
The unit, priced below $200 with installation kit, is available through Turbo 3000D distributors or from Turbo 3000D itself.
Other fuel-savers take different approaches to separating the fuel molecules for maximum combustion.
Rentar Environmental Solutions uses technology similar to that found in catalytic converters, says President Joel Ratner. “The Rentar Fuel Catalyst uses pure catalysts that do not dissipate over time,” Ratner says. “These catalysts atomize fuel and supply more oxygen to the combustion event. All fossil fuel has trace elements which react with catalysts. A static charge is created that separates molecules of fuel and allows them to combine with oxygen. This gives more complete burn in the cylinder,” says Ratner.
The Rentar website lists tests done by fleets and testing labs. Among them is a nine-month study done by 28 trucks running Series 60 Detroits, which showed a 2 percent improvement in fuel economy. The Rentar catalyst lists for $1,495.
The Sumag, sold by Fredco Enterprises in Lorain, Ohio, for $150, uses a magnet attached to the fuel line to expose more fuel to the combustion process by dispersing the fuel molecules, says President Charles Frederick. “Fuel has a tendency to clump, which means that only outside molecules are burned,” he says. “The inside molecules do not burn and go out the exhaust, wasted.”
At J.A.T. Trucking in Dover, Ohio, John Anderson’s fleet of 15 trucks uses the Sumag. He says it “has given consistent increases of 9 percent in winter and 13 percent in summer over the last three years.” Sumag literature promises a 10 percent to 14 percent rise in fuel economy after a 2,000-mile break-in period.
Because there is no mandatory testing for fuel-savers, owner-operators looking for a cleaner burn need to do their homework. Real-world testing over long periods by you or someone you trust and, when available, controlled testing, are generally the only ways to evaluate a fuel-saving component.
Many owner-operators install The Fuel Preporator (above) themselves in about four hours. The newest model costs $995.
PUTTING THEM TO THE TEST
When it comes to fuel-saving devices, many owner-operators give more credence to first-hand testimonials than to second-hand claims from a lab test. However, from the point of view of an engineer, the experience of any given user has limited usefulness because it does not account for many variables.
“There are many ways to calculate mpg and even the smallest oversight can result in large errors,” says The Fleet Managers’ Guide to Fuel Economy, published by The Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations. Possible errors in miles per gallon include speedometer calibration inaccuracy, use of map miles instead of odometer miles, failure to record all trips and missing records. And that’s just for starters. “It takes a lot of miles and a lot of trucks to flatten the effect of variables like variations in tread depth, inflation pressure, weather, seasonal changes and driver behavior,” says Victor Suski, project manager for the ATA’s Technology Demonstrator Project.
The driver is arguably the principal variable in fuel mileage. “There is as much as a 35 percent difference between the most proficient and the least capable drivers,” says The Fleet Manager’s Guide. Furthermore, Suski cautions, “Drivers who know they are testing fuel savers often drive more carefully, making it appear the devices are working when in fact it was driver behavior that caused the increase in fuel economy.”
The answer to these problems is to control testing as much as possible. Technologies tested at university engineering labs, with the military, or with independent labs or consultants can be done with widely varying degrees of control. The most carefully controlled program is the Technology and Maintenance Council’s Type IV, which discounts as many variables as possible. For example, one day is spent preparing two trucks – one with the device to be tested, one without. Weights, tire pressure and other factors are equalized. Precise measuring techniques are used. Drivers switch trucks at predetermined locations to rule out differences in driving style. (None of the devices mentioned in the accompanying story have gone through expensive Type IV testing.)
Cummins “neither approves nor disapproves” of aftermarket fuel savers, says Mark Conover, marketing strategist. He adds that engine makers have “an awful lot of smart people doing research on diesel technology. They tend to discount the claims made for add-on devices.”
Chuck Blake, a Detroit Diesel engineer with many years of road-testing experience, says he tends to downplay claims of fuel savings and power increase unless at least six trucks (three with the device, three without) are tested. “You need at least two months of fuel and performance data just prior to testing and two months of testing in order to get an accurate idea if the device works,” he says.
Government agencies offer limited insight into product worthiness. The Environmental Protection Agency “has a voluntary testing program but there is no law saying any device must be tested,” says Don Zinger, an EPA assistant director. “We publish results of testing in the Federal Register, but devices can be sold no matter what is published there.”
The Federal Trade Commission, which investigates claims of false advertising, “has not had any reports of false advertising involving such devices from the Class 8 industry,” says spokeswoman Claudia Farrell.