The fact that today’s fuels aren’t what they used to be is not news to most people. We’ve been beating the collective drum for a while about how the gasoline you buy at the pump isn’t what it was 10 years ago (because of the ethanol content), while the diesel fuels today are worse in some ways than what you could get a few decades ago (because of refinery processing to remove sulfur).
Whether they’re consumers wanting to treat their car’s gas or a business trying to manage fuel/equipment expenses in a turbulent environment, people are always looking for and open to solutions. They know that they can’t change the fuel itself – it is what it is when it gets to them. There aren’t a lot of choices. Naturally, they turn to fuel additives as a possible solution.
There are thousands of fuel additive products out there, all claiming to be awesome. They’re all the best fuel additives around. But that doesn’t make sense - they can’t all be the best. Confusion starts to reign – how do you pick the right one?
This is a huge challenge for both businesses and consumers. Neither one can afford to throw money away, whether it’s wasting money on something that doesn’t actually work or relying on a useless fuel additive that doesn’t solve a problem that’s costing you money.
The big issue here is trust. How trustworthy are the magnificent claims of that fuel additive you’ve never heard of that claims to be the best thing under the sun? If the fuel additive market was regulated in same way other areas are, maybe you could have more confidence here. And to a certain extent, it is - the EPA has regulations that apply specifically to fuel additives before they can be sold. But people have a way of getting around regulations designed to protect consumer and business buyers. The EPA is only one entity who can’t police everything as quickly as we might like.
So we’re left with a situation where the market is full of “me-too” additives, many of which aren’t actually any good. Making the wrong decision can cost you. We’re here to help.
There are lots of different types of fuel additives. Contrary to the popular conception, some of them do rely on solid chemistry to deliver effects and benefits that are well known within the industry. In other words, not all of them are snake oil.
In order to pick the right additive solution for your problem, you need to know what kind of additive will help you. That entails knowing what kinds of additives there are to choose from. As we start weeding through the 1000s of additive products on the market, we can find it helpful to group them together in certain ways.
The biggest divider of fuel additives is by what kind of fuel they’re used in. This means mainly gasoline additives vs. diesel fuel additives. The majority of gas additives are aftermarket products purchased by consumers for their personal vehicles. Diesel additives dominate the B2B market, who use large volumes of fuel and who have a clearer picture of what problems they have and what they need to meet their challenges.
“Multi-function” additives are preferred by the consumer market because they combine multiple value claims in one product. This gives the impression to the buyer that they are getting more for their money. These multifunction products tend to be marketed toward the fuel or engines they’re intended to be used in – “Marine MXO” for boats, “Mix-I-Go Small Engine” for small equipment. Sea Foam, Power Service, or Ethanol Defense from Bell Performance.
Value points like detergency, lubrication, water control, and some kind of combustion improvement are common among multi-function additives. They may also stabilize the fuel and raise fuel cetane rating (if they are a diesel additive). These benefits encompass the range of the most needed benefits today’s fuel users are likely to need.
“Single function” additives dominate the B2B (business) market because they deliver specific individual benefits that businesses will have identified they need. Businesses tend to buy only what they need and do not like spending money on extraneous benefits. Fuel stabilizers (like Dee-Zol Life) to extend stored fuel life, biocide (Bellicide) to kill microbes in fuel tanks, and water scavengers (DFS Plus) are examples of single function additives commonly considered by businesses. On the consumer side, commonly used single function additives could include single tank injector cleaners for gasoline, sold in small one-time use bottles for the purposes of cleaning vehicle injectors.
Fuel additives can also be classified by their treat rates – whether they are concentrates or “one shots”. A large swath of multifunction additives aimed at the consumer market are “one shot/single-treat” products – lower-cost products where you use the entire bottle in one tank of fuel.
For the most part, single-treat products are considerably more expensive to use than concentrates. They may cost less up front, but their cost-to-treat is much higher. You may buy a single-treat gas additive off the shelf for $6.00 at the local auto parts store instead of a bottle of Ethanol Defense Concentrate that costs $23.00. At first glance, the single-treat is much less expensive, until you consider that the single-treat product only treats one tank of fuel – call it 20 gallons. That means the single-treat actually costs 30 cents per gallon to use. The $23.00 concentrate product might treat over 300 gallons of fuel, so it costs less than 10 cents per gallon to use.
Which would you rather pay for the same benefits? 30 cents per gallon or 10 cents?
Businesses use fuel additives because they know they work. They also know that whatever fuel treatments they purchase need to provide a high ROI – return significantly more money and value than what they cost. This puts single-treat additives out as they are too expensive for businesses to use.
The type of additive used depends on the needs of the business. For some, this could mean protecting stored fuel to ensure it remains functional for when they need it. Or improving the performance of their engines to ensure continued peak operating. Or even helping to protect the life of their capital equipment so their maintenance costs stay under control. For these and other needs, some additives considered might include:
Fuel stabilizers – Anyone who stores fuel (or who uses stored fuel for an essential function) needs to protect the fuel’s quality in the storage tank.
Biocides – Stored fuels inevitably develop microbial growth in the storage tank, leading to severe problems. Biocides are the weapon of choice to stop this problem.
Water controllers – Water collection in storage tanks is associated with lots of costly problems. Microbial growth and corrosion in the storage tank are just two of them. Water controlling fuel additives are used to keep water buildup in storage tanks at bay.
Cetane improvers – Diesel fleets rely on cetane improvers to ensure their fleet vehicles are performing the way they should.
Cold flow improvers – Also known as anti-gel treatments. Since diesel fuel gels in cold weather, cold flow improvers are added to the diesel fuel supply, before the weather gets cold, to ensure diesel engines don’t shut down with clogged filters because they’ve become plugged with gelled diesel fuel wax.
Other Problem Solvers –There’s a whole another group of fuel additives used by market sectors like refining, power generation and fuel distribution – static dissipaters, H2S scavengers, vanadium inhibitors and deposit modifiers for heavy fuel oil.
Whether you’re a consumer buying for yourself or an operations manager buying for your business, you buy a fuel additive because you have an idea what you think it’s going to do (otherwise, why would you buy it, right?). If you’ve used it before, you have a better idea what it’s going to do. If a friend or industry colleague uses a particular fuel additive, then it’s the same deal – you have credible information on what to expect it to do. If not, then you’re relying on product claims and promises.
Therein lies the big issue – so many additives “over-promising and under-delivering”. How can you have confidence whether any additive will do what it claims? Nobody has the time or inclination to test or try out everything in the market. And why should they have to?
When you stick around as long as we have, you learn there are certain signs you can watch out for in choosing a good fuel additive or avoiding a bad one.
Mileage is the one everyone pays attention to. If you pick up a bottle of fuel additive and it says something like “Improves mileage by 20% or more, guaranteed”, there are some giant red flags in there.
Red flag #1: The Big Claim – No additive can consistently improve fuel mileage by that much. Maybe it might happen on rare occasion, but not often enough to make a marketing claim for it. There’s a limit to what fuel additives can do for mileage. Huge mileage claims are a sure sign that it’s probably not a good product.
Red flag #2 The Guarantee – There are lots of guarantees in life. Death and taxes, for example. Improved fuel mileage isn’t one of them, because that depends on lots of different factors working together. Driving behavior, for example, is a big one. That’s not to say fuel additives can’t improve mileage substantially. We’re not saying that at all. But a guarantee of a certain level of improvement isn’t something a credible fuel additive would make. A bogus fuel additive would definitely do that. And by the time you figure out the guarantee wasn’t really valid, they’ve already got your money.
Everyone in the industry knows that fuel microbes need free water present in order to grow. The old rationale used to be, control the water and you won’t have microbe problems. But this changed a few years ago. It’s no longer enough to simply control the accumulation of water to prevent microbes in your storage tank. Yet lots of lesser fuel additives make claims that imply just that. Worse yet, many of them go as far as implying that they can kill existing fuel microbes simply by getting rid of water. This is not actually a legally-valid claim to be making. The only thing that can kill fuel microbes is a biocide. And if you have a legitimate fuel biocide in your hands, you’ll know it by the multiple biocide registration numbers displayed on the product’s labels as required by law.
If someone’s trying to sell you a fuel additive that claims to be able to control or kill microbes simply by controlling water, that should be a red flag that it isn’t everything it’s claiming to be.
Fuel additives rely on delivering chemistry through combining different chemicals that cause certain chemical effects in the fuel or in the engine environment. But this only works if there’s enough of a given chemical being delivered into the fuel. For example, 2-ethylhexylnitrate (also known as 2-EHN) is commonly used as a cetane improver. And it definitely works – it is established and credible chemistry known for decades in the industry. If you want to raise fuel cetane number by, say, 4 points, you’ll need a certain amount of 2-EHN in the fuel.
The problem comes when a fuel additive claims to be able to do a bunch of different things, but at a very low treat rate. Maybe it claims to clean your engine, improve mileage and power, raise diesel fuel cetane number by up to 8 points, stabilize fuel and control water, all at a low treat rate of just 1 ounce to 30 gallons of fuel.
At first glance, what a deal! You get all those benefits at such a small treat rate. Adding 1 ounce to 30 gallons of fuel is equivalent to a 1:4000 treat ratio, which equals having 250 ppm of fuel additive in your fuel. The problem here is that, in order to do all everything it claims, you need a lot more than 250 ppm of additive in your fuel. Indeed, even just raising fuel cetane rating by 4-5 points (much less 8 points) would require close to 1000 ppm of cetane improver alone. There would be no space for any other kinds of chemicals to do any of the other things it’s also claiming to be able to do.
Bogus fuel additives get away with this by making a bunch of claims about the great things they will do, while only putting a tiny amount of the necessary chemical in their formulation. They put a drop of 2-EHN in there, and then make a huge claim like “improves cetane number by up to 8 points”. At least they can claim “we have cetane improver in our product”. Meanwhile, the consumer doesn’t get what they were expecting because they believed the marketing claims.
A fuel additive that is “EPA-registered” is one you want to consider. All fuel additives for use in “on-road” gasoline or diesel fuel must be registered with the EPA. The EPA reviews the additive’s formula to make sure there’s nothing in there that’s going to harm the environment or the engine. That doesn’t mean the EPA is paying any attention to what the product’s benefit claims are; they’re not concerned with that. They want to make sure it’s made up of the same kind of stuff that’s already found in fuel.
If a fuel additive isn’t EPA-registered, it’s not legal to sell for use in any on-road fuel. That means fuel that goes into your car, truck, RV, anything that travels on the road. Note that it doesn’t mean fuel intended for boats, small equipment, or generators. “Off-road” fuel additives don’t have to be registered with the EPA. But we all know that lots of people just buy regular on-road fuel and use it in all their machines. You don’t’ search out “off-road” gasoline just to put in your lawn mower, right? You usually end up using the same fuel that you put in your car or truck.
If a company hasn’t taken the time or effort to register their on-road fuel additive, you want to stay away from it. There’s no telling what’s really in it. And besides, if they’re unwilling to go through the simple and legally required procedure of submitting their formulation for EPA registration, how can you trust that they’ve even got anything worthwhile in their fuel additive that they’re probably making huge claims about? EPA registration doesn’t cost anything and is simple to do. It shouldn’t be a problem for them to comply with the law.
The other hallmarks of a good fuel additive center on whether it has the optimal functionality required for what you want to use it in. Cars and trucks need a different set of benefits than small engines or stored fuel needs. Although, it is important to keep in mind that there’s a lot of cross-over between these. But people are used to thinking about “additives for cars” as separate and distinct from “additives for my boat”. That’s why you see products marketed just for boats or just for ethanol fuel or just for small engines. They all may contain some common ingredients, but people like it when an additive is labeled for a specific use.
If you know you need an additive for a specific use, you want to know the difference between your choices. Is Product A better than Product B for your purposes? Some answers are more easy and straight-forward, like choosing between certain single-function additives. Cetane improvers, water controllers, lubricity improvers – there’s not a lot of difference between these single-function fuel additives. Provided they contain the right ingredients, you’re going to get similar results.
The harder choice comes when selecting between other types of additives that do have more meaningful differences between the options available. You know what you’re getting with some additives. But the same isn’t true for all of them.
This is a big market mostly slanted toward consumers. As with regular gasoline additives, you want something that’s going to improve mileage and performance. And that goes hand in hand with detergency, which is probably the most important element of a good multifunction additive. Keeping injectors and the combustion chamber clean are the most important things you can do to keep your engine running at its best.
Specific to ethanol, you want a fuel treatment that prevents phase separation and prevents ethanol damage – the slow solvent action of ethanol on polymer parts like rubber and fiberglass. This is much more of an issue with small engines than it is with cars and trucks, which are pretty much immune to that. If an ethanol additive has some kind of protectant ingredients, it’s likely included because it’s assumed the consumer is going to use it in their lawn and small equipment in addition to their vehicle(s).
A survey of the market gives us a comparison between 6 popular additive choices for ethanol gasoline: Ethanol Defense, Star Tron, Sea Foam, Amsoil Quickshot, SRP Gas Treatment and Sta-Bil 360 Performance. You can see which ones fulfill the most essential functions of an ethanol additive, especially with respect to their treat rates and their cost to treat.
Multifunction diesel additives have some commonalities with ethanol additives. Providing better mileage and performance are critical. And the backbone of any reputable diesel multifunction treatment is the detergent package. Beyond this, these additives also aim to control water. Some formulas will provide added lubrication to fuel system parts. As a bonus, still other formulations may also provide stabilizing ingredients for diesel fuel in storage. Put all these together and you have a good diesel fuel additive that covers all your bases.
As with ethanol additives, we can survey the market for a comparison between seven popular additive choices for treating diesel fuel: Dee-Zol, Lucas Fuel Treatment, Power Service Diesel Kleen, Marvel Mystery Oil, PRI-D, Sta-Bil Diesel Stabilizer and ILFC 1032.. You can see which ones fulfill the most essential functions of a quality diesel additive, as well as comparisons of their treat rates and their cost to treat.
At first glance, you might think fuel stabilizers (for diesel fuel) are single-function products. But there are key distinctions that can separate a good stabilizer from a not-so-good one. A fuel stabilizer isn’t a one ingredient thing. It’s a number of different chemicals put together, each one included because it accomplishes a specific thing that protects the fuel’s storage life. Acid-base stabilizers, dispersants, metal deactivator, corrosion inhibitor and anti-peroxidal ingredients – the best stabilizers check off all those boxes.
We can see how some of the available popular additive choices compare in this regard: Dee-Zol Life, Sta-Bil Diesel Formula Stabilizer, K-100MD, PRI-D and Schaeffer 192ND Neutra Plus. When we examine whether they contain all of these key ingredients, and contrast that with their treat rates and cost to use, the better ones start to rise to the top.
Given the important functions they do, picking the best biocide and sludge dispersant is important. But it can be difficult to tell the good ones from the lesser ones. The better sludge dispersants have a biomass dispersant ingredient that breaks up the biomass formations that can shield microbes from any biocide added to the fuel. So using a sludge dispersant in conjunction with a biocide makes the biocide itself more effective.
The best sludge dispersants have additional functionality beyond petroleum sludge dispersal and biomass dispersal. They can also provide corrosion protection for storage tank surfaces and they even can help different fuel blends mix together when one fuel load is added into a storage tank containing another.
Biocide product names are distinguished by type of chemistry, and not all chemistries are equally effective in the most important areas. The best biocides need to last a long time killing microbes in the storage tank. They also need to work quickly, migrate effectively through both the fuel and water phase, and be immune to the effects of low fuel pH.
Surveying the market for both biocides and sludge dispersants helps us to see how the functionality of the different products available (Bellicide, Kathon FP 1.5, Bio-Bor JF, Pri-ocide, Aquatreat DNM-30, Bell Tank Treatment SDF, Technol, SBG, Fuel-Right, Clear-Diesel) stack up, especially in the context of their treat rates and their cost to treat.
The naysayers would chime in and claim boats don’t need fuel additives. But google a combination of terms concerning gasoline treatment and outboard motors, and you’ll find a variety of parties chiming in to the contrary. Some of them (West Marine, Mercury Marine) are more reputable than others. They all seem convinced that there’s at least some potential for concern with ethanol gasoline and the outboard boat motors that use it.
Boats.com (talking about solving most common outboard engine problems) – “Modern fuels have a shelf life of only a few months, especially when mixed with two-stroke oil, with the fuel leaving a black varnish or gum on the inside of the carburetor when it evaporates…Adding fuel stabilizer will prolong the life of the fuel, and reduce the tendency to produce varnish.”
These industry sources all know the same thing – ethanol fuels can cause real issues with outboard motors. Using a fuel stabilizer that also contains detergency (like Marine MXO) attacks the very problem they’re referring to – the varnish buildup that clogs the carburetor jet. Additionally, when you think of fuel additives for the marine environment and ethanol-gasoline, there are other essential functions that come to mind. Combatting marine humidity and ethanol’s affinity for holding water. Preventing phase separation. Getting around the corrosion issue.
The best marine fuel additives for gas-powered boats have a lot in common with the best fuel additives for cars and trucks. Better mileage, performance, effective detergency, fuel stabilization – all commonalities. Better marine additives will also target enhanced water control and ethanol treatment (in case you have to use ethanol-blend gasoline in your boat).
People don’t always buy based on strictly logical decisions. Not everyone ticks off a list of important product benefits and features and concludes with “I’m sold”. At their heart, many buying objections have emotional components to them.. Two big objections that prevent people from buying the right fuel additive for them may be “It’s too expensive” and “I haven’t heard of this one”.
“Too Expensive” – this is usually in response to seeing the sticker price for an additive. Is it really too expensive? How much would it cost you not to use a fuel additive? Depending on the kind of additive, that could be significant. People and businesses spend money all the time on preventive maintenance solutions. They spend money to change the fluids in their car. Business have preventive maintenance budgets. And fuel additives are those kinds of expenditures. You might balk initially at spending $23.00 on a bottle of Ethanol Defense fuel additive. But when you consider that’s actually only about 7 cents per gallon, you know you’re getting a lot more than 7 cents of value back in return, even beyond any mileage increase you’re going to see. And that means it’s not actually too expensive.
“Why haven’t I heard of you” – we get this one every so often when people ask why Bell Performance products can’t be found on store shelves. For the typical consumer, if they don’t see it in a store, it’s not real to them. Bell Performance invented the first fuel additive, but they’re not widely sold in retail stores because Bell products are better than many of the products that can be found there. We don’t put Bell products on store shelves because we don’t want them being lumped in by consumers with lesser products that don’t work but are only found on store shelves because their manufacturer was able to cut a store deal to sell them for pennies on the dollar. Bell Performance makes fuel additives to do what they say they do. And you get what you pay for.
Consumers don’t ask for much when they’re needing to buy. They have a need or challenge that they’ve determined is worth spending time and money to solve. When they spend this time and money, they expect good value back. Just as importantly, they need to have confidence (trust) that they’re making a good decision.
The fuel additive market is more competitive than ever, filled with entities that will tell you whatever they think you want to hear to get your money. Since they’re only concerned with their own bottom line, they have no problem exaggerating their real ability to fix your problem. This makes the fuel additive industry look bad.
Bell Performance invented the first fuel additive back in 1909 – that’s more than 100 years ago. A big reason why Bell Performance is still around is because our customers know they can trust our fuel additive solutions to do what they claim. We have customers who are still with us since their parents bought their first Bell Performance product back in the 50s and 60s.
On the business side, companies and professionals also know the problems and challenges that they need to fix. And they weigh solutions vs. the cost of not taking action, every day.
Our customer base is spread out across the state of Florida and around the world because Bell Performance products like Dee-Zol, Bellicide and Dee-Zol Life are among the few industrial-grade fuel treatments that really work. They are priced competitively and they consistently deliver a high ROI while effectively addressing the fuel-related issues that businesses purchase fuel additives to address.
Fuel additives don’t have to be a daunting proposition. And they don’t have to be snake oil. Choose the right one – Bell Performance. Because We Fix Fuel.