Some companies have taken products that have been around for years and slapped on fuel-saving labels in hopes of catching consumers recently attuned to increasing their fuel economy. Touted as "gas mileage improvers," fuel injector cleaners, which some manufacturers recommend you pour into your gas tank about three times a year, could set you back $3 to $7 a bottle each time at your local Pep Boys or Auto Zone.
Although these products could help cars with gummed-up fuel injectors, gasoline in California has enough detergents that most people here probably don't need them, Mazor said.
People driving older cars or those driving in states where the gasoline formulations may be different could benefit from such products, said Joe Esparza, general manager at Pep Boys in Hollywood. Yet he warns consumers against relying on these additives too much.
"Everything in excess will harm the efficiency of your fuel system," Esparza said. If a certified mechanic recommends the use of fuel injector cleaners, "they should be used in moderation."
Urban legends abound about the ability of all sorts of household products to increase fuel efficiency, including mothballs and acetone, the main ingredient in nail polish remover.
Some of these have ingredients that may work, but "you have to be very careful about anything you put into your fuel tank," Reed said. "People are so desperate to save money on gas, they'll try anything."
What's more, said Mazor, "very few people actually really know how to measure their fuel mileage." Mileage can be affected by factors such as weather conditions, the type of car, the type of fuel, whether the air conditioning is running and how fast the car is driven.
Alex Barnes, training manager for Tri-Universal, an Anaheim direct marketing firm, spends much time on the road touting new products, often auto accessories. A few weeks ago, when he was marketing a product at a Phoenix gas station, a BioPerformance distributor asked him if he wanted to try a couple of gas pills and become a distributor.
Barnes was skeptical. "It's a quick fix to get poor fast," said the Costa Mesa resident. After trying a few free pills, he was unconvinced. "I may have gotten slightly better gas mileage, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly what could have affected it."
The bottom line, said Steven Szakaly, an economist at the Center for Automotive Research, an Ann Arbor, Mich., nonprofit: "Believe me, if a product really worked, it wouldn't be something someone was selling from the back of their truck."
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Fuel economy tips
* Clean out your trunk. An extra 100 pounds can reduce fuel economy by 2%.
* Stay within posted speed limits. Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 miles an hour.
* Avoid unnecessary idling.
* Avoid jackrabbit starts and stops.
* Use overdrive gears and cruise control when appropriate.
* Keep your car well maintained, including changing oil when appropriate, replacing air filters regularly and keeping tires properly inflated and aligned.
Source: Federal Trade Commission
Los Angeles Times