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Author Topic: Automotive Snake Oils?
robertbell
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Does anybody have a favorite automotive "snake oil" or know of product with preposterous claims?

"Like having your engine rebuilt - while you drive!"

I've used some of these fluids, such as Bardahl's "Smoke No More" to stem the tide of oil burning in older cars (it works, after a fashion, but only puts off the inevitable).

J.C. Whitney still sells a kit with some motor goo and little tablets that you peel off waxed paper (like those old dot candies!). You are supposed to pour the goo in the oil and the dots in the spark plug holes - "like a ring job - WHILE YOU DRIVE!". Usually accompanied by a pix of Dad in his Fedora grinning like an idiot behind the wheel of his '39 Buick.

They also peddle a fluid that "restores" your battery - VX-5 or something like that. Pour it in your battery (where? Most are maintenance free now!) and it's like getting a whole new battery! Geez, a new DieHard is less than a hundred bucks....

Some of these products actually work. Radiator stop leak will seal small leaks in your radiator (and plug up your engine, too) and I've even seen it seal up a leaky head gasket (try it before you junk your car, a friend of mine got another 20,000 miles out of his Chevy this way).

Most oil additives (Motor Honey, Smoke No More, STP, etc.) are viscosity enhancers - goo up the oil to make it less likley to slip past worn rings and valve guides. The do work after a fashion.

STP is supposed to be "the racer's edge" but I can't think of someone putting this junk in a brand new Lexus. It is very high in detergents, supposedly. I prefer Mobil 1 myself.

Do you recall the "miracle" oil additives of a few years back? (e.g., "Slick 50" and the like). Supposedly they had "long chain" molecules which "bonded to metal" to make the engine last longer. To prove the point, they would drain the oil from a car and drive it around a racetrack. I suppose it works great if you drive around with no oil. You don't see much of that product anymore.

You'd think if it worked as advertised, we'd all be using it by now.

Most of these products are sort of like deer whistles, though. How can you prove it made the engine last longer unless you own a fleet of cars and put it in half of them and then compare milage between teardowns?


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'Lester
The Red and the Green Stamps


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'GEE! my last three cars gave me very LITTLE engine trouble. (The first one was a GM 6-Cyl with that great "Alien Spider" of Emissions Control pipes, which the dealer couldn't get parts for...)

Actually, I junk a car for OTHER reasons...

- I notice how wobbly its' road handling became after the Drivers' side floor split (making me wonder how RUSTY the body pan/unibody has become)

- Somebody borrows the car for a supply run, & the front/left wheel falls off in the Admin building parking lot! (The Steering Spindle broke)

- Now that THIS car is 6 years old, paint doesn't stay stuck to its' bodywork; last May this car had a collision, & I find Plastic body parts for a 1993 Escort are getting rare/expensive; & there's an ominous groan from forward.
(Last years' incompetent "routine" transmission maintenance was repaired by a local shop, but I wonder...)_


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robertbell
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Thos old Escorts were nothing to write home about. 88 HP and a very cheap unibody. There was no camber adjutstement on them (the upper strut mounts are fixed), so if it has been in an accident, it tends to eat tires, and the only way to fix it is to air chistle out the strut mounts and reweld them to a new location.

Despite all this, the Escort was the best selling small car in America for many years.

Ford has finally clued into the fact that people will pay good money for a quality small car. Every mechanic I've talked to raves about the new Focus. It actually handles very well (as a european design, you would expect this, I guess).

WHILE we're on the subject of RUST, another "snake oil" deer-whistle is those "electronic rust inhibitors" again sold through JC Whitney and other sources. Supposedly it sends a small trickle current through the body of the car. This trickle current supposedly creates (or prevents, I forget which) a galvanitic reaction to stop the car from rusting.

ANOTHER ONE that just came to mind is the "fuel magnet". These are basically cylinderical shaped magnets which I beleive are originally intended for electronic equipment (check your monitor cable, it has one on one end) to control noise spikes.

They are sold as an automotive accessory. You are supposed to clamp it on the fuel line and it will "polarize" the fuel moelcules and thus improve performance. I supposed it might trap metal shavings.....

ANOTHER recent bit of snake oil is the "Vornado" air intake. It is a turbine shaped bit of sheet metal you are supposed to put in the intake of your engine to "swirl" the air for better combustion. Again, I doubt it does much, but upstream of the Mass Air Flow sensor, it will create an interesting effect - the MAF will probably read wrong and give the car more gas, thinking there is more air flow. It would actually reduce air flow (as would any obstruction) and just make the car run rich, which might give slightly better performance at the expense of gas milage.

Can you think of any others? There must be a bazillion of them.

"I saw some kid in a fast car the other day...it must have been fast - it had a coffee can sticking out the back of it" (unknown, possibly Dennis Miller?)

Coffee Can tailpipe extensions have to be the ultimate automotive snake oil.

Oh! I almost forgot fake blue headlights!

--Bob.


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Ursa Major
The Red and the Green Stamps


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The most wide spread "snake oil", in my opinion, is high octane gasoline. Is there really any reason to use anything higher than 87 in a late model automobile?
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DataAngel
Xboxing Day


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quote:
Originally posted by robertbell:
Do you recall the "miracle" oil additives of a few years back? (e.g., "Slick 50" and the like). Supposedly they had "long chain" molecules which "bonded to metal" to make the engine last longer. To prove the point, they would drain the oil from a car and drive it around a racetrack. I suppose it works great if you drive around with no oil. You don't see much of that product anymore.

They just don't push it as hard as they used to. Slick50 was pretty much an infomercial/buy from TV deal. A good portion of easily available motor oils now are at least part "Slick50" type stuff -- synthetics that coat a little better and wear a little longer.

I don't recommend draining all your oil and driving around at a 100 mph after using synth-oil but it really does help if you *know* your car has an oil leak and you can't afford to get it fixed you can get a little extra protection on those days when you forget to add extra oil not that I've ever done that.

Data "part-time gearhead" Angel


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nikkib
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
The most wide spread "snake oil", in my opinion, is high octane gasoline. Is there really any reason to use anything higher than 87 in a late model automobile?

There is absolutely a reason for higher octane gas in some cars. I have one car (1997 Mustang Cobra) for example, that has a supercharger. It requires a higher octane gas to prevent detonation which could potentially (if not eventually) blow up the engine. This car requires such a high octane level, that I actually have to put an octane additive into it.

On the other hand, I have another vehicle that is not at all prone to detonation, and I look around for the cheapest crud I can find to put into it. (1983 Mazda Rx7)

NikkiB "Speedster Girl"


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martinR
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by nikkib:

On the other hand, I have another vehicle that is not at all prone to detonation, and I look around for the cheapest crud I can find to put into it. (1983 Mazda Rx7)

Actually, Wankel motors are prone to detonation. Though not as bad as the 12A engine, the 13B (I'm assuming that's what is in your Rx7) will suffer from high rpm detonation which will reduce edge seal life.


m 'now how do I fit that 4-rotor engine in here?' R


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DataAngel
Xboxing Day


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quote:
Originally posted by nikkib:
There is absolutely a reason for higher octane gas in some cars. I have one car (1997 Mustang Cobra) for example, that has a supercharger. It requires a higher octane gas to prevent detonation which could potentially (if not eventually) blow up the engine. This car requires such a high octane level, that I actually have to put an octane additive into it.
NikkiB "Speedster Girl"

Must be a Mustang thing. I had a Mustang Ghia that needed 93 octane and an octane booster to get going.

My current car -- a 1989 VW Jetta -- runs on almost anything cheap. If I use anything above 87 octane it gets real cranky. Course, with gas prices still high, I'm not about to complain! Especially when I'm getting something like 30-35 mpg city!


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robertbell
The Red and the Green Stamps


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If your car is KNOCKING then use a higher octane fuel. Hi compression and high performance engines (like the Yamaha/SHO) require 92 octane to run. My 302 in my pickup runs all day on 87 and seems to prefer it.

DETONATION and KNOCKING (Pre-ignition) are two different things. If you have DETONATION your engine is probably a pile of little bits by now. Detonation is casued by a too lean mixure which causes the gas/air mixure to suddenly explode, usually blowing a hole in the top of the piston (the weakest part of the combusion chamber). After more than a few revolutions, the engine is lunch. If you are lucky and have only "mild" detonation, the engine may survive, but blow the spark plug to bits.

Many people confuse detonation and knocking (pre-ignition), which probably qualifies as an Urban Legend (back on topic!). I did until I read a great article about the difference between the two in Sport Avaiation magazine.

Knocking, which is what you are talking about, can be caused by using too low an octane gas. The gas/air mixture pre-ignites (like a diesel) causing a knocking sound. Retarding the timing can help, and that is what anti-knock sensors do - measure knock using a piezoelectric transducer and then electronically retard timing until the knocking disappears. This was my "art" when I was a Patent Examiner.

Most modern cars don't knock because of these electronic controls. Pollution controlled cars of the 1970's didn't have these features and knocked like hell, and also dieseled (run-on) after they were shut off. Many were equipped with "anti-dieseling" solinoids to shut off flow from the carb.

Detonation is pretty rare, unless you are running a highly modified engine. Turbo and supercharging an engine, if improperly done, can cause detonation by inducing too much air into the engine. This is one reason, I beleive, most racers like to run rich. Also a vacuum leak, such as from a bad power brake booster vacuum line, can cause one cylinder to get too much air and blammo - blow a piston.

As to whether higher octane gas will improve performance, the answer is "it depends". On some modern high performance cars, you can get away with using lower octane gas (which the manufacturers now say you can do, as a marketing ploy) but the knock snesor will probably retard your timing and reduce power output. So on some engines, yes, higher octane gas will improve performance.

Also, most high octane gas have lots of detergents and stuff in them which may arguably help by cleangin out injectors and removing water from the gas (i.e., alcohol).

I just finished putting a 10:1 Metric Mechanic motor in the 2002 and got it running yesterday. It likes the high octane, to say the least. Weber 38/38, 320i ignition, header, ANSA exhaust. As my brit friends say, "bru'tal!"

Regards,

--Bob.


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martinR
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Congrats, Bob, on getting the bimmer back together.

I'll be brief, as I'm off to Saturn (ugh, inane meeting time), but most engines today will NOT perform better with higher octane, and will get WORSE fuel economy. Higher octane affects the burn rate and NOx levels, so the best solution is the lowest octane your engine can use without setting off the knock sensor.

m 'now how do I get that Garrett under this hood?' R


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derfred
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by martinR:
Higher octane affects the burn rate and NOx levels, so the best solution is the lowest octane your engine can use without setting off the knock sensor.
R


But how do you know when the knock sensor is set off?


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martinR
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Great question! Unless you're using a diagnostic tool that does a realtime download, there's not much to tell. Sometimes, the response is not immediate in the ECU, so if you're in a high gear, low rpm, you can hear the first few knocks before the timing is retarded.

Typically, whatever your owner's manual recommends is fine. I notice slightly decreased power and fuel economy if I'm using a low octane fuel, but that's the price I pay for buying fuel in the hinterlands.


m 'burn, baby, burn' R


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roadrunner
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by martinR:
Congrats, Bob, on getting the bimmer back together.

I'll be brief, as I'm off to Saturn (ugh, inane meeting time), but most engines today will NOT perform better with higher octane, and will get WORSE fuel economy. Higher octane affects the burn rate and NOx levels, so the best solution is the lowest octane your engine can use without setting off the knock sensor.

m 'now how do I get that Garrett under this hood?' R



I guess the "most" clause gets you out of complete disagreement, but...MANY engines will perform better when fed the high octane fuel. Climate also has a tremendous affect. It's all about the rate of pressure rise in the cylinder, and that is affected by the compression ratio, air fuel ratio and the load. Here in Houston, it's sea level and hot (except for the last month) and it does make a performance difference to my 98 Dakota. Winter months it's the cheap stuff, but come the summer, it's mid grade for the peak performance and gas mileage (though I usually go the cheap route). I wonder if anyone has taken a new vehicle to the track and tested the various octaines?

I notice someone else posted about the better additives in premium fuel. I seem to remember a lawsuit against Chevron? or Texaco? that busted them for false advertising. Turns out all of the grades of fuel got the same detergents.

RR


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benzstar
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Use the octane the manufacturer recomends. If your car likes the cheap stuff, save the money. If your car comes from Germany, is getting on in years, or both, do not us anything but 93 on pain of death! (the car's) I have been around German autos old and new for about 8 years, and have talked to numerous mechanics (co-workers, not people trying to pad a repair bill) who swear violently that even in cars where there is no noticable difference, the car lasts longer. (Again, German cars, Hondas and Fords may lock up with the good stuff, beats me) I myself can hear knocking if low grade fuel is used, even in 2000 model Mercedes-Benz. I've also seen gas powered Benz's with 350k+ on the odometer still running stong, with owners who subscribe to the theory of regular oil changes and high octane gasoline. Anywhay, that my $1.59.
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Snow-Dog
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My old van, a chevy g20 had a 350cid small block in it and got the best mileage using 89 octane, 87 split my mileage in half. However if i used 93 octane then my mileage went back down, just not as severe as if i used 87.
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