Choosing The Best Diesel Additive For You
Buying diesel fuel additives is kind of like shopping at the grocery store. If you don’t know what you really need at the store, or what you’re planning to make for dinner, it’s really difficult to pick the right things. Similarly, the key to choosing the right fuel additive for diesel fuel is knowing what you need it to do.
What Diesel Fuel Needs Most
Knowing what you need your additive to do hinges on knowing the most likely problems that are associated with diesel fuel. So your additive choice should have active ingredients that target those problem areas.
Detergency – A clean engine runs better and more efficiently. It gets better fuel mileage and its DPF and SCR systems last longer (i.e. longer times between regen cycles). If any of these sound good to you, then you definitely need detergency in your fuel additive.
Cetane Improvement – If your diesel engine is running roughly and doesn’t seem to have the power it used to, it’s likely your fuel's cetane rating isn't high enough for what your engine need. So you need to add more cetane to your diesel fuel. Even though the legal minimum in the United States is 40, many diesel engines need 45 or higher to run best. If this is the case for you, you’ll want to look for cetane improver in the additive.
Water Controller – ULSD is more prone to hold on to water, so it can benefit from some kind of water controller.
Fuel Stabilizer – This is an important one if the fuel is anything but high-turn. Diesel fuel quality degrades the longer it sits in storage; this is especially true of today’s diesel fuels that incorporate more cracked fuel stocks in their composition. It isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. If you store diesel fuel for any length of time, you need a fuel additive that stabilizes the fuel to improve its storage life.
Buy Soup At The Store - Don’t Buy Your Fuel Additive There
Like the teenager who thinks “if it isn’t on Tik Toc, it isn’t real”, there’s a certain assumption that “if this stuff was actually good, they’d sell it in my nearest auto parts store/big box store/grocery store”. Yet, the real best quality fuel treatments for diesel aren’t sold in big-box stores or chain retail locations. If you look there, those shelves are mostly gas additives anyway.
The best additives for diesel fuel don’t always have retail marketing. Retail stores care about different things than additive manufacturers do. They care about what sells, not what works. And it’s extremely expensive to sell fuel additives in those locations - the margins are much lower, which means they may have to cut corners on the ingredients. Many people don’t realize how true this is.
If you’re hungry for soup and crackers, by all means hit the store aisles. If you need a diesel fuel treatment that’s actually going to work, you’re better off going direct to the manufacturer.
If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
Legit fuel additives use established chemistries well known in the industry to accomplish specific effects in fuel. Unscrupulous products will exaggerate their claims in the hopes of confusing a buyer enough that they won’t question whether those claims are true or not. More often than not, the customer ends up unsatisfied and unhappy. Then the whole industry gets labeled as ‘snake oil’.
Well, it’s not all snake oil. There are sound chemistries that work out there. So what do you do to make a good decision here?
We can’t tell you exactly what to look for - there are literally too many claims out there to examine each and every one individually. So our advice is, when you’re examining a particular additive and seeing what they claim to do, just take things with a grain of salt. Be naturally skeptical, especially of any claims that seem at all to be too good to be true. Make them prove to you that they are legit.
Take a look at the treat ratio. “High treat rate” means you use more of it. “Low treat rate” means you use less of it. If you’re comparing two additives and the first one says use 1 gallon per 5000 gallons of fuel (treat rate = 1:5000) while the second one says use 1 gallon per 1000 gallons of fuel (treat rate = 1:1000) - which treat rate is higher and which is lower? The first one (1:5000) is considered the “lower treat rate” and the second one has the “higher treat rate”, which one gallon every 5000 gallons is less than one gallon every 1000 gallons.
Why is this worth paying attention to? The higher the treat ratio (i.e. the more of it you have to use), the more “space” the additive has in its formulation to include the right amount of active ingredients needed to do what they claim. An additive with a low treat rate (like 1:5000) would have less “space” to put in what they need to put in for it to work.
How much “formula space” do they really need? Maybe not as much as you might think, but it depends on what they’re trying to do.
A good rule of thumb is that you might need to use a minimum of 1 ounce to 8 gallons (or 1:1000) for a fuel additive that is addressing at least the four major benefits we mentioned earlier (detergency, cetane, water control, stabilization). That’s not to say that it couldn’t work at 1 ounce to 12 or 14 gallons. But if you see an additive that claims to do nine or ten different things at only, say, 1 ounce per 50 gallons, now the “too-good-to-be-true” whistles start going off. You couldn’t possibly have enough space at that treat rate to effectively accomplish all those great things.
You Can’t Buy History
Fuel additive companies that do that - that make broad claims they can’t achieve - don’t last very long. It eventually catches up with them (and hopefully the FTC does as well). That’s why it’s useful to look at the history of who you’re considering. How long have they been around for? If they’re been around for 50-100 years like Bell Performance has, you tend to find that it’s impossible to last that long if you rip customers off with additives that don’t deliver what they promise.
EPA Registration Can Separate The Legit From the Not-So-Much
Finally, if it’s an on-road additive, you want to look for a diesel additive that has been registered with the EPA. This is a big deal and it’s important ( not least because it's the law to do so). They may advertise their registration on their label or they may not. If you don’t know whether it's registered, just google “EPA registered diesel fuel additives” and the first link will take you to the EPA’s online list of registered on-road fuel additive. It’s all public information, so it’s not like it’s a secret. Anyone can check this information for themselves. At the site, you'll see a list of companies along with all the trade names for all their additives that are legally registered.
The rlaw says that if it’s going into on-road fuel, it has to be registered. This is true even if it’s just a “white label” of someone else’s additive. A company could contact a manufacturer who already has a registered fuel additive and sign an agreement to buy their legal additive, rename it, rebottle it and sell it as a new product. That’s perfectly legal to do that and it happens more often than you might think. But they will still have to register the newly named product. They can't just piggyback off the existing registration, because they're selling something considered to be a "new" product (since it has a different name). We’ve seen many instances where someone appears to have done that, or even claims to have done that, but they didn’t really register it with the EPA. And that’s illegal. How do we know they did that? Because their company and/or their new product name isn’t listed on the EPA’s online list for registered diesel fuel additives.
This EPA additive registration requirement is important for several reasons. First, because it’s the law to do so. Second, it shows they’ve done the leg work to comply with the law. Fuel additives from these kinds of companies are much more likely to actually work than additives from someone you’ve never heard of that can’t be bothered to comply with the law. It also means there’s no chance that the additive contains harmful things it's not supposed to, things that can damage your engine or worse. The EPA registration process weeds all of that out.