No, this column has nothing to do with platinum RTD temperature sensors, like the older one.1 A while back, Chester, one of my old friends, asked me, "Bob, have you heard about this new platinum injector that is supposed to increase your car's gas mileage by 20%?"
I said I didn't think I had heard of it, but it sounded like one of those magical gadgets that are usually found to not work well. It sounded kind of UNLIKELY–like a magnet strapped to the carburetor. A couple of weeks later, Chester said, "Bob—remember that platinum injector? I bought one, and it seems to work."
He explained the arrangement: A little hose from the throttle area draws, by vacuum, a stream of little bubbles through a quart bottle filled with a mix of special liquids. One of these liquids is supposed to be inert, but the other contains a platinum compound. Maybe platinum chloride? The platinum vapor is drawn into the bubbles and goes into the engine and supposedly causes improved combustion. (It's an interesting point that these liquids must not be very poisonous, as there's no warning to not drink them or splash them on your hands.)
Chester said he paid his $99, connected it up, and it seemed to give an honest 10% or 12% improvement in gas mileage right away. (If there was a week or two of gradual improvement, that might have meant it was plating onto the cylinder walls gradually.)
I looked into this. Okay, maybe it sounded like snake oil, but it seemed to work. I sent in my $99, too. I read all of the literature that came with it, and I got a copy of the patent,2 too. Most of the quasi-technical explanations seemed EXTREMELY unlikely and implausible. The explanations vary between absurd and grotesque. Not QUITE scientific. Yet it seems to work.
I checked my gas mileage fairly carefully before I installed it. I'd been getting 25 mpg at 69 mph, rolling on highway 280. If I go on trips where my speed falls below 65, the mileage rises up to 27 or better. (It used to be better, but the MBTE gasoline in California now gives poorer mileage.) Will my mileage jump to 30? Hold on and you'll find out soon.
This "injector" worked so well on Chester's old 1986 Dodge that he decided to buy another platinum injector to put on his '96 Saturn. Again he took careful data. In this case, the improvement was negligible. Chester suspects that modern cars have enough computerized controls and feedback and exhaust gas sensors that the computer CORRECTS for whatever the platinum tries to do. It won't let the improvement take place. Does that explanation make sense? (This leads to the question, does the platinum cause better or poorer emissions?? It's too early to guess.)
So Chester pulled the "injector" off of his Saturn and put it on his motorcycle. Early data indicate an 8% or 10% improvement, though it's hard to tell as the tank is so small that precision data are hard to get.
Would I recommend this to anybody else? First of all, we're just in the learning stages of what is going on. Anybody with a modern car and computer controls on the combustion would quite possibly NOT find any improvement, we surmise. Anybody with an OLDER car, with carburetor or NOT-computer controls, has a chance to see a 10% improvement. (Just make sure your engine is well-tuned-up and that you have accurate and honest data on your fuel mileage BEFORE you install it.)
However, if you don't drive 20,000 miles per year, then a 10% savings in fuel might barely get you a break-even period of over a year. So that might be a poor investment. But if gas prices rise, that would improve your payback–your return on investment, or ROI.
I don't want to exactly RECOMMEND this to anybody, not just yet.3 But if we can find other people who have tried this successfully, that might help us make up our minds. If anybody has seen any reports that understand why and how it really works, that would be very interesting. If anyone knows where and when and why it does work (or does NOT work), that would be valuable to know. So—this time—it is very important when I say at the end of my column: "Your Comments Are Invited!"
What data did I see in my 1970 VW Beetle? I saw an immediate improvement of about 7% or 8%, about 2 mpg. Not 20%, which their web site touts is "Guaranteed." The "improvement" came up right away. And after I disconnected the hose, it seemed to hold up for one more tank—but not for a second tank.
Why do I say "about 8%?" Because in any given week, there may be a traffic slowdown. If I slow down from 69 mph to 10 or 20 or 30 for several minutes, should that be expected to help or hurt the gas mileage compared to 27 mpg? That is very hard to say. But the improvement DOES seem to wobble around 8%. Just about break-even, if I wait 18 months.
All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
Mail Stop D2597A
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090
- "What's All This Platinum Stuff, Anyhow?", Electronic Design Analog Supplement, June 27, 1994, p. 50.
- U.S. Patent #4,295,816, B. Joel Robinson, Oct. 20, 1981.
- Address to buy is: Platinum Gasaver, National Fuelsaver Corp., 227 California St., Newton, MA 02158. About $99. Phone: (800) LESS GAS or (617) 244-3838. (It's a good idea to pay for this with a credit card in case you have to return it.)
Their web pages were at:
www.fuelsaver.co/nz/technical.html. Note: This URL came up with a "404" on Oct. 29. Ahem. I'll look again, but is this trying to tell us something? (Or did the extradition treaty with New Zealand run out?). But that might have recently been changed to: www.nationalfuelsaver.com/default.htm. Two additional working web sites you can try are located at www.davesfuelsaver.com/dvaillant/pages/view/index.nhtml, or www.re-action.com/dc/news/energies/nrgies215.html.
Note: The "Fuelsaver Prozone" from England, covered by Patent 5,404,913, is NOT AT ALL the same product.
P.S. Okay, why don't I just slow down from 69 mph to 65 mph and get an honest 2-mpg improvement? Very simple: Every gallon of gas that I burn, I'll admit, is gone forever. But every minute that I waste is, LIKEWISE, a minute wasted forever. Is it a fair tradeoff for me to stay at 69 mph and pay $100 to keep the fuel consumption the same, while I save 20 or 30 hours per year? Yeah, I'll pay that price cheerfully. /rap