Caught Over a Barrel
Kim dismisses the EPA's remarks as a "big government thing. Nothing you can do." Goss's findings? "Hmm, really?" he says.
Another device called the FuelSaver-Pro promises to save up to 27 percent in fuel economy by realigning gas molecules using magnets boxed around the fuel line. Mark Ayoub, who markets the product on FuelSaver-Pro.com, says, "Sales have increased since gas prices have recently shot up."
But the EPA in November alerted the Federal Trade Commission that the maker of the $89.95 FuelSaver-Pro was making unsubstantiated claims by mixing results from different tests to boost its mileage claims.
The manufacturer, IRD International Research & Development in San Diego, did not reply to requests for interviews, but the FuelSaver-Pro Web site just changed its promotion.
Roger Crawford, a businessman and independent researcher in Midland, Tex., takes a different approach to fuel economy. He has just begun marketing a gas additive he calls "XtraMPG." He says it boosts octane, burns cleaner and enables motorists to get better fuel economy and buy less expensive grades of gas -- saving 10 to 15 percent overall on gas.
What's in XtraMPG? "Most of us know it as nail polish remover," Crawford says. "It is simple acetone, a nonhazardous organic chemical . . . rated at 150 octane."
Crawford says he'd be happy if everyone bought acetone and added it to their gas tanks. But since people seem reluctant, he's packaging it as XtraMPG.
The EPA hasn't tested XtraMPG. But the EPA's Chandler warns that consumers need to beware what gadgets and fuel additives they add to their cars -- especially with today's computer-controlled fuel-injection systems. "There are other, more practical ways to save fuel," he says.
The Word Gets Out
One way is locating cheap gas. Joe Matelis of Catonsville uses online sites to steer him to low-priced stations. He carpools in his 1999 Dodge Intrepid on an 80-mile round-trip commute to the District each day.
"I refuse to pay the escalated prices in the Catonsville area," says Matelis, who recently joined GasWatch.com and has been a member of GasBuddy.com. He buys gas now from a station in Southwest Baltimore about 3.5 miles out of his way.
Gas price sites such as on MSN.com's Auto page, AOL.com's CityGuide and GasBuddy.com increasingly are becoming useful resources. These free sites post street reports from "spotters," volunteers who track prices at specified local gas stations. To find cheap gas, consumers key in their Zip code or click on their state and check the reports.
Jason Toews, a computer programmer in Brooklyn Park, Minn., co-founded GasBuddy.com four years ago with grade-school pal Dustin Coupal, an ophthalmologist who shares Toews's obsession with pump prices.
The nonprofit site is now one of the most active gas-search sites, combining a network of 174 locale-specific Web sites, such as virginiagasprices.com, marylandgasprices.com and washingtondcgasprices.com. Since prices started spiking, GasBuddy has been getting 500,000 to 700,000 hits per week, says Toews. "Six months ago, we got about a third of that."
Consumers can find gas 10 to 15 cents cheaper just by driving a mile out of their way, says Toews. Some people are suspicious of the cheapest no-name gas stations, but he points out that their gas must meet the same federal minimum standards big-name brands meet, even though it typically doesn't contain the brand additives that help maintain cleaner engines. But who needs that every fill-up?
When he pulls into a cheapie and across the street people will be filling up for 10 cents more per gallon, says Toews, "you wonder why."
But are motorists wasting gas to save gas when they go out of their way? Bankrate.com has a calculator that determines how much money driving off-route to a cheaper station saves. Motorists can plug in their mpg, gas tank size, distance to travel to a cheaper station and its price and the distance to the closer station and its price.
When Matelis keyed in his Intrepid's 24 mpg and 17-gallon tank, and the $1.70 he paid last week at the station 3.5 miles away instead of the $1.79 at the station 1.7 miles away, he found he saved $1.40 per fill-up. Says Matelis: "That's worth it."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company