Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Running on fumes

You've probably seen this Hollywood cliche in a million times ...

Imagine this is just 5 minutes before the movie ends:

The hero is trying to escape via a plane/car/bike/truck/boat after successfully completing a death-defying mission. The unrelenting (but typically stupid) bad guys are hot on the protagonist's trail. But it looks like the hero will make it to safety after all...

Then, the twist comes... and quite often, fuel (or the lack of it) becomes an issue. Some lucky cock-eyed baddie somehow manages a fluke shot that hits the escape vehicle. That usually means hitting the fuel tank. Makes one imagine that Hollywood vehicles are made with fuel tanks covering the entire surface!

One time, the hero wasn't so lucky...

So anyway, the fuel starts flowing profusely, the low-fuel light starts blinking ominously. The fuel may even catch fire (but rarely explode) if the director sees the need for added drama. The hero's sidekick (or the hero himself, if its a low budget flick) then earnestly taps on the fuel gauge, somehow hoping that the needle would miraculously jump back up to 'Full'.

Then hero mutters something that always seem to have the phrase "we're running on fumes".

It is usually around this time that I lose interest in the movie. My mind then goes off on a tangent, and starts wishing if only it *were* really possible for my car to "run on fumes". Aaah, wouldn't that be a thing of beauty?

At the time of writing this, crude oil price dropped 3.7% to USD 127.19 a barrel, but the 1-year forecast still hangs at a stratospheric USD 165.35 per barrel. In Malaysia, we're still reeling from the 41% jump in petrol pricing. People outside of here would tell us to quit whining as our fuel price is still relatively low. But that's another debate.

It has finally happened!

One thing's for sure though: Every time the fuel price goes up, so does my interest in fuel-saving devices. The idea of spending a couple of hundred bucks in return for the promise of saving between 10% to 25% in fuel costs never fails to get my attention.

In my moments of weakness and desperation, I'd actually bought a few of these items. One of which was a fuel magnetizer. Another was a some fuel additive. The list goes on... and consistently, I came up with one result. None of them lived up to their promises!

Do these things work? Put quite simply, there are 3 views floating around:

1) Ya, they work. Yeah, the cheque's in the mail. Yeah, Santa will be with you in a moment.

2) They don't really cost that much... and some people are swearing by its effectiveness... so what's the harm of trying it? There are lots of anecdotal accounts too.

3) None of them seem to be built on any sound scientific principles. And even if some products may claim to have discovered and exploited some yet-unexplored scientific anomaly... none of the products have gone through a proper, controlled test without failing miserably

To put it even simpler -- these things don't work as advertised! And if you're not careful, some products may actually make things worse for your car!

Some new miracle fuel additive?

I'll save you the trouble (and money) by listing some of studies performed, and the conclusions, in the links at the end of this post.

Some marketeers, anticipating consumer skepticism have resorted to conspiracy theories. The favourite one is about the unholy alliance between petrol companies and car makers. The story, it seems, is that the Exxons of the world have partnered/cajoled/threatened the Toyotas of the world into hiding from the rest of the world, the secrets to vastly better fuel economy!

Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory! But think about it. If there really are fuel saving technologies that will give you quantum leaps in efficiencies, won't you find:

  • Hummers suddenly giving the Prius a run for the money?
  • Korean cars finally making fuel efficient cars like the Japanese?
  • Proton Savvy not having to resort to cheap tricks to get itself into the Malaysian Book of (questionable) records?

AHA, some smart guy retorts: How do I know that Toyota *hasn't* in fact already made a pack... and they are hoarding all the fuel-thingigamajigs to themselves?? huh? huh?

Like I said, everybody loves a good conspiracy theory.

The ultimate fuel-saving gadget...?

So, enough of my gab. Here's what some of the the pros have to say:

1) Popular Mechanics actually did a controlled test on 7 fuel saving 'technologies'

2) Vincent T. Ciulla writes a 4-pager detailing the groups of devices and common brand-names of those devices which the US Environment protection agency tested -- and found none of the products worked as advertised, or, hear it straight from the Federal Trade Commission, who sound like they've had enough with the false advertising that comes with these products.

3) Lastly, my hats of to Tony. This guy is really, really passionate about fuel saving gadgets. His very comprehensive site all you need to know about all manner of products. Read and learn. Will save you a few bucks!

While researching this topic, I stumbled on this highly informative site about cars. If you want to know what's under the hood, but never got around asking, check out The author painstakingly put together 3 massive pages of practically anything and everything cool you ought to know about your ride. Go through this and you'd have picked up a few things to impress the guys (or the girls - some do care!) with your motoring know-how!

Have fun!

Still not happy? You really still want to save fuel?
Here are a few things you can consider:
  • Read it up: Hypermiling -- or if you care to wait, I intend to write something about this one day!
  • Re-chip for better efficiency (as opposed to better power)
  • Buy a more fuel-efficient car (duh!) :)
  • Lobby the gov for ULSD (ultra-low sulfer diesel) and when successful (don't hold your breath!), change to a car with Euro-4 specs, like the ones powered by diesel common rail technology
  • Do public transport, cycle, walk, call in sick

3 commented:

Anonymous said...

brace yourself o centered parted one... just got off a bank seminar and one of the commodities trader said that the market is actually mulling crude at USD300/barrel next year!

he's got all sorts of theory on why crude price is where it is now. But by the time his estimate hit USD200/barrel, my mind had already drifted about getting myself to purchase the so called fuel magnetizer advertised in the AAM magazine.

And now this article of yours come out.... geeze, back to driving without air-con-to-save-money for a foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

Garenti low consumption: You can get out and push, ngiak ngaik!!

Anonymous said...

In the interest of saving the environment and in the process, your pocket, try cycling. Burns off calories too!