E-Mail “How Can I Make My Car More Efficient?”

February 26th, 2012

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I get the strangest e-mails sometimes.  In guess people think I just have the answers to everything.   Here’s one:

Dear Depleted Cranium

The price of gas keeps going up but I can’t afford a new car and I really just want to figure out if there’s a way to make my car run more efficiently and burn less fuel. It would be nice if it made the performance better too.   I really am more interested in saving gas. I keep seeing all these products that go onto the gas line or the air filter or somehow are connected electrically.  I keep hearing that they are scams.  They sound too good to be true, so probably are.

Is there something that is not a scan that will boost my cars fuel mileage?

The internal combustion engine is a mature technology that has been tweaked and tinkered with for many years. The car business is cutthroat so manufacturers are trying to make their engines as efficient as possible. If there was a simple device like a magnet you could slap on to make the car burn fuel better it would come standard. A few more miles per gallon is a big deal in the automotive industry, especially at today’s fuel prices.

That said, there are a few things that could potentially improve the fuel efficiency of a car and also boost performance, but not by a huge amount:

  1. Keep the car well maintained and tuned – In a new car this is not going to make any difference, but as time goes on, spark plugs wear out, potentially resulting in less perfect ignition.   Fuel injectors can get dirty and oil degrades.   Just keep the car in good repair and it will provide the best fuel economy possible.  Check the owners manual to see how often you should bring it in for a tune-up.   Also keep the tires properly inflated.  But don’t expect any of this to make that big a difference.  Unless the car is in pretty bad need of maintenance, it won’t make a noticeable difference.
  2. Add a cold air intake – I am a little hesitant to suggest this, because in my experience it really does not produce any improvement you’ll notice, but at least in principle, if you can get the intake air temperature cooler, it will improve overall engine efficiency.   Most engines take in air under the hood where it’s already pretty hot.  A good cold air intake sucks in air from an area where it has not been preheated much by the engine.   It also should not restrict the flow of air by much, since that makes the engine work harder.   I’d recommend against putting one in if you don’t know what you’re doing, because improper installation can cause a lot of problems, some of which could ruin your engine.  And in any case, don’t expect this to make more than a very modest difference.
  3. Upgrade to a low resistance exhaust system – The exhaust system you choose for your car never will improve the performance of the engine directly.  An engine will always do best if it has no exhaust system at all, and just vents out the gas directly from the exhaust manifold.  That would be very loud and dirty, however, and modern regulations require a catalytic converter.  Pushing the exhaust through the piping, the catalytic converter and the muffler makes the engine do a little extra work.  Therefore, if you install an exhaust system with less resistance, such as larger pipes and a less restrictive muffler, it can result in the engine generating slightly more horsepower from the same amount of fuel.  Again, don’t expect anything major from this.   Most people who put performance mufflers on their car really just want it to sound loud and obnoxious.   Making the exhaust system actually as low resistance as possible requires completely rebuilding it, which is expensive and probably not worth the modest savings you’ll get.
  4. Modify the ECM Code – I am again hesitant to include this one, because usually it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Modern cars have an electronic engine control module which can often be modified by using a programer or by replacing the original ECM with one that is modified with new firmware. Most car manufacturers code their ECM to provide the best compromise between fuel economy, performance, engine response and so on. In some cases, it’s possible to gain more of one of these by making trade offs on the others. For example, some modifiers can squeeze a tiny bit more power out of their engine by sacrificing fuel economy. It’s also possible that you could make the engine use a little bit less fuel if you tweak it to rev up a bit slower or change other aspects of the engine. I don’t really recommend this, especially if you’re not sure of what you’re doing, and because you will ultimately end up having to make tradeoffs somewhere, since the manufacturer already does a pretty good job of balancing performance, fuel economy, reliability, response and so on.
  5. Add a turbocharger – This is probably the one thing that can actually result in a major increase in performance and overall efficiency to an internal combustion engine.  It uses a turbine, powered by the exhaust flow of the car, to spin another turbine that compresses the intake air before it reaches the engine.  Because the engine gets more air, it can operate more efficiently.  This will almost always produce better performance.   It may also improve gas mileage, but that really depends on the engine and how you tune it.   You will definitely need to reprogram the engine controller if the engine did not come with a turbo charger.There may be complications.  Not all engines can take the added compression, the additional compression may require you use higher octane fuel in the engine, which would defeat any potential savings and the turbocharger can be difficult to install depending on the car.  Turbochargers get very hot and therefore may need additional cooling components.  Installing them requires re-routing the engines exhaust and intake air.  It’s a complex job and not all engines provide a good place to locate the turbocharger.Turbochargers are expensive, especially when you factor in professional installation, which is required unless you really know what you are doing.  They may or may not actually result in a noticeable improvement in mileage.  When they do, it’s still not generally going to result in enough savings to pay for the cost of installation.  For this reason, turbochargers are generally installed for performance reasons but not to provide improved fuel economy, at least not in gasoline engines.

I’m sorry but that’s pretty much it. Aside from other basic things like trying to accelerate gradually and not gun the engine too much, avoiding any unnecessary items mounted to the outside of the car, which may increase drag and things like that, those are really the only things you can do and they probably won’t help enough to make them worth the effort, with the exception of keeping the car well maintained, which is always a good idea anyway.


This entry was posted on Sunday, February 26th, 2012 at 2:30 pm and is filed under Good Science, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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57 Responses to “E-Mail “How Can I Make My Car More Efficient?””

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  1. 51
    Anon Says:

    Never mind that you can’t run a car on water as it’s already burnt (not to mention that Meyer’s claims were found to be fraudulent).


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  2. 52
    Shafe Says:

            Bob said:

    Stan Meyers invented a catalyst that does this. It worked great and was about to change the world.

    The problem with his catalyst is that it abruptly stops working as soon as the operator gains a basic awareness of thermodynamics and chemistry.

    Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen (H2 and O2) requires an amount of energy that can be described as “the increase in potential chemical energy” (the amount of energy you can get out of the resultant H2 gas) plus some loss. Conventional means of splitting water into H2 and O2, such as electrolysis, have very large losses. There is nothing impossible about a catalyst reducing those losses, but the overall required energy input is still equal to “the increase in potential chemical energy” plus a *smaller* loss. Even if you could reduce the loss to zero, which you can’t, you still must supply an amount of energy equal to “the increase in potential chemical energy” of the H2 that you get out. Doing that makes the whole process a zero-sum game, but since you can never actually reduce the losses to zero, it will always be a negative-sum game.

    But then, what I’ve explained here should have been made clear to you by more than one science teacher during the course of your education. You simply have to recognize that the idea of running your car on water boils down to just another perpetual motion scheme.


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  3. 53
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Bob said:

    You can make your car a lot more efficient and even better you cna have it run on water. Why not? Water is part hydrogen and its proven you can run the car on hydrogen. Just fill the tank with water and all you have to do is break that bond and the engine burns the water like it was gasoline.

    Stan Meyers invented a catalyst that does this. It worked great and was about to change the world.

    You know what happened next. The government and the oil company masters and the saudi’s and everyone else who would lose their war fed riches wanted him to stop. They were going to work with Meyers and offered him millions of dollars to shut up about it. He was too honest and would not take it from them, so they moved to plan B and had him killed.

    RIP Meyers. Genius had uis almost freed.

    People still build their cars to run on water uisng his technology, but nobody goes out and tels the world. I have been thinking of converting my car. Do it for urself and you will be fine, but go out public and they will kill you too!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEp6ckvRtj0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0dhwlhTs9M&feature=related

    It takes energy to split water. It will always require more energy than you get back from burning it. Yes, you can turn water into fuel by extracting hydrogen, but that has to be done ahead of time with an external energy source. If you run the engine on hydrogen you get less energy than you used to split it.

    There’s just no free lunch here.

    Burning hydrogen produces water. You cannot start off with and finish with the same chemical compound and have a net energy gain. That’s just not possible.

    And you might want to look up what a catalyst actually is. A catalyst can accelerate chemical reactions or facilitate them under conditions where they would not exist, but it can’t make a reaction happen that requires external energy.


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  4. 54
    George Carty Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    It takes energy to split water. It will always require more energy than you get back from burning it. Yes, you can turn water into fuel by extracting hydrogen, but that has to be done ahead of time with an external energy source.
    If you run the engine on hydrogen you get less energy than you used to split it.

    There’s just no free lunch here.

    Even though EROEI is less than 1, wouldn’t it be worth it if you can turn a non-portable form of energy (such as wind, solar, hydroelectric or nuclear) into a portable fuel that can be used to power a car?


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  5. 55
    Anon Says:

            George Carty said:

    Even though EROEI is less than 1, wouldn’t it be worth it if you can turn a non-portable form of energy (such as wind, solar, hydroelectric or nuclear) into a portable fuel that can be used to power a car?

    I thought that bit was so obvious as to not need to be said.


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  6. 56
    Shafe Says:

            George Carty said:

    Even though EROEI is less than 1, wouldn’t it be worth it if you can turn a non-portable form of energy (such as wind, solar, hydroelectric or nuclear) into a portable fuel that can be used to power a car?

    It would very useful to be able to more efficiently split water into H2 and O2 with electricity: a great technological breakthrough. And it would certainly make intermittent energy sources (read renewables) more useful.

    Even better would be to use that H2 to produce methane or propane.

    But it will still never be the same as “running a car on water.”


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  7. 57
    George Carty Says:

            Shafe said:

    Even better would be to use that H2 to produce methane or propane.

    Yes, I have encountered the argument that even if you can make hydrogen in a cost-effective way without using fossil fuels, hydrogen as a fuel has so many problems (such as low density and difficulties with leakage) that you’d be better off just binding it onto a carbon backbone anyway…


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