Gas-saving devices have been around as long as cars, and they become especially popular when prices edge up. But do any of them really work?
Just last month some experts were predicting gas was headed toward $5 a gallon. But now some analysts are saying it could drop back to a national average of $3.50 per gallon by mid-June.
That’s good news, but $3.50 is still pricey. Just a year ago the average was $2.83, and 20 years ago it was $1.12. (You can look at historical gas prices going back to 1990 in a spreadsheet from the Department of Energy.) So it’s no surprise that people are still looking for ways to save, including questionable “gas saving devices” advertised on TV and online.
Do they work? A few years ago, professional skeptic James Randi offered a $1 million prize for anyone who could prove their device lived up to their claims. Nobody entered.
Money Talks News managing editor Stacy Johnson spoke with Randi about the pseudoscience behind these devices. Check out the video below, then read on for some advice that actually might actually help.
As you heard in the video above, even the Environmental Protection Agency has examined over 100 of these “gas-saving” devices. They’ve been doing it since the 1970s, and have found few, if any, that produce worthwhile results. In fact, they believe some could even damage your engine.
But that doesn’t stop companies like Neosocket from hocking magic gas-saving devices — in this case, a little bulb that plugs into your cigarette lighter that uses “capacitors” to “increase your vehicles MPG by up to 30%,” and also gives you “more horsepower, cleaner emissions, better acceleration, [and] longer battery life.”
That’s like plugging your cell phone into a wall outlet and expecting it to lower your electric bill, make your AC run cooler, and make everything smell nice. We don’t test devices here at Money Talks, so we can’t say unequivocally that this device or any other doesn’t work. But doesn’t it seem highly unlikely?
The Tornado makes similar claims. It’s a piece of metal with holes in it, and the “precisely engineered slotted fins convert normal air intake flow into a powerful spinning vortex of air that mixes the air and fuel together,” supposedly improving mileage and horsepower. When Popular Mechanics tested it, they said it did nothing — and a similar kind of device actually dropped fuel efficiency by 20 percent.
To check out more debunking of these devices, here’s an entertaining video from the Mythbusters.
What does work
On Wednesday, we’ll reveal one tip that can actually lower gas consumption by up to 30 percent, and it’s free. But in the meantime, is there any technology that can help you save money on gas?
Sure: they’re called fuel-efficient cars. That’s probably not what you want to hear, but it’s the best way to cut down the money you spend on gas. At the Department of Energy’s FuelEconomy.gov, you can compare mileage between different models and classes of vehicles and get a sense of what’s most efficient.
Of course, buying a new car means spending money – a lot of money – to save money. But there are other less expensive ideas: like web and smartphone apps. Give these a try:
- GasBuddy. Both the website and the app take advantage of user-reported gas prices in your local area. You can search by zip code or city and it will give you the name, address, and cost of different fuel types at local stations, sortable by price or distance. Free.
- Billshrink. This web app helps you cut costs on everything from cell phone and cable service to gas. It finds the cheapest gas prices near two addresses you specify (such as home and work) and will e-mail you the cheapest places on a regular basis. It calculates the best prices based on the distance needed to get to the stations, too. Free.
- Carticipate. This app is available on Facebook or for iPhones. It helps coordinate carpools between people in your personal network by matching up times and destinations — which means you have to know that stuff in advance to take advantage of it. But carpooling is the quickest and most effective way to save money, gas and the environment. Free.
- Waze. An iPhone exclusive, this app works as a GPS device but also features real-time traffic reports so you can avoid wasting fuel idling in a mile-long backup. (For Android users, try Google Maps Navigation.) Free.
- Route4me. If your job involves a lot of driving or you run multiple errands at once, this one may be worth trying. You give it the addresses you’re going to, and it gives you the shortest route that hits all your destinations. You can optimize for different time intervals, too, when time is a higher priority than distance. This is available online and for iPhone/iPad, and free if you’re plotting less than 10 stops on a trip. (Otherwise it requires a subscription after a 30-day trial.)
There are also devices that can affect fuel efficiency by modifying your car’s computer system, and they do work — marginally. For most people, they aren’t worth it because they cost hundreds of dollars. But if you’re interested, check out Should You Hack Your Car for Better Mileage?