Gadgets & Gizmos: Buyer Beware

Gadgets & Gizmos: Buyer Beware
Chris Hill has been a fleet manager and consultant with some of Canada’s best known companies, as well as with several municipalities and with the Ontario government. In addition, he has served twice as chair of NAFA Ontario Chapter.

If it’s too good to be true…

Many experienced fleet managers have had to deal with offers from vendors they have never heard of for fuel additives or devices that are installed on vehicles that claim to improve fuel economy or reduce emissions (or both). The performance of these products very rarely meets the claims offered by their promoters, and fleet managers need to be aware of that.

I have been given some truly astounding pitches for fuel-saving products. Some are completely undocumented, so the promotion includes an offer of a free sample to try in your own vehicle. Don’t—it’s a dare. Once you have tried it, it’s hard to show that you are impartial to the decision to buy it for your fleet. A trial in a single vehicle proves nothing because the outcome is seldom measured in a scientific way.

Sometimes the product comes with “proof” from a source you may have never heard of. I received one with a 16-page “report” claiming to have been completed by the 10th Chematalogical Institute of Ukraine. Google that and see what you find.

The promise of efficiency

Often the pitch focuses on combustion efficiency. The explanation for the product’s performance is that “efficiency” is improved. The vendor points out that a gasoline engine only converts about 25 percent of the energy in the fuel to force that drives the wheels. This part is true.

But the pitch goes on to claim that the product burns fuel more efficiently and therefore delivers more power for the same amount. This is nonsense. Automotive engines are about 99.99 percent efficient at burning fuel.

One of the most far-fetched pitches I have received claimed that fuel combustion efficiency would be improved by using an additive that would shorten the hydrocarbon chain. Obviously if you take away a couple of atoms from gasoline (C8H18) to make it shorter, say C7H16, then the substance is no longer gasoline and won’t work.

It is advisable to be firm in asking for verification of the product’s performance claim from a reputable source. If the vendor can actually produce an authentic verification report, look closely to see if the performance claim has been reduced from what you heard in the initial pitch. I have seen claims for major improvement (double-digit percentage change) turn into insignificant numbers when tested in a scientific way.

Verifying claims

In Canada there are two reliable organizations that can help verify performance claims for fuel saving products and environmental technologies. One is ETV Canada. ETV stands for Environmental Technology Verification and it is backed by the ISO 14034 standard published in 2016. It has verified street sweepers and two engine after-market devices and the verification reports are available on their website.

The other is PIT Group, a service of FP Innovations based in Quebec. PIT stands for Performance Innovation Transport and offers EnerGoTest as a service to evaluate fuel saving products. PIT and ETV Canada are not new, and both have earned well-regarded reputations for their verification protocols.

The bottom line is simple: No matter how promising the claim and how tempting the offer, do your homework and check with the proper authorities before making a decision.

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