Due to an increasing number of inquiries concerning fuel additive safety and vehicle manufacturers’ propaganda, I updated this article. Below is V2.0.
Are fuel system cleaners and fuel additives safe for my engine?
This is a question I am asked all too often, and I would like to put your mind at rest from the outset. From all my experience and testing, I have yet to find a commercial fuel-based engine cleaning product that has resulted in any form of short, medium, or long-term damage to a fuel system or engine when used per the manufacturer’s instructions. Sure, many products are poor quality or don’t deliver as promised, but the main commercial ones I have tested are at least safe to use. This includes engines with superchargers, turbochargers, the latest particulate filters, and high-pressure fuel systems. There are rare stories of failures or issues, but in all cases I have examined, they resulted from an underlying problem unrelated to additive use.
Please note that this is not a license for you to put any rubbish in your fuel tank! I only recommend cleaners using effective and proven ingredients. Providing the recommended dosages are not seriously abused, the cleaners I recommend are no more dangerous than the fuel itself. Some forget how corrosive gasoline is!
So why do Bill, Joe, and Agnes on ABC automotive forum advise against the use of additives? Why do my main dealer and car manual insist on no fuel additives? Why is there a warning sticker near the filler cap?
Firstly, ignorance. In any life endeavor, knowledge is power; it always has been and always will be. Combine this with the fact that people feel compelled to help and contribute regardless if the help or contribution is good or poor. When knowledge is lacking the void is generally filled with incorrect (usually a reiteration of someone else’s opinion/beliefs) or fabricated information (nothing more than guessing). Thus, poor quality help or contribution then follows.
In this modern age, the internet forum has become the perfect platform for all to contribute, feel needed, take on the role of “expert,” and help others. Some advice is good, and some are poor. Unfortunately with fuel additives, some are falling for the negative PR, parroting what someone else has misunderstood/misquoted or just second guessing.
Please note that this article is about the safety of additive use, not efficacy. I’m sure many are aggrieved with some additives’ performance and spurious claims, but that is a different conversation for another day.
Let’s look at this in more detail and help fill that void. Do you know the difference between standard and premium pump diesel fuels? Additional detergent package (usually DW-10 tested) and 2- Ethylhexyl Nitrate (2-EHN) cetane booster – that’s all. 2-EHN is the worldwide standard for raising cetane. DW-10 is the primary injector dirty-up and clean-up test procedure for measuring the performance of diesel fuel detergent packages in Europe.
Now let’s examine a diesel conditioner I routinely recommend for some diesel applications – AR6900-D MAX
Latest DW-10 proven detergent package
Ester diesel fuel system lubricant
Water handling, dispersant, demulsifier, stabiliser and anti-corrosion pack.
All proven and tested functions.
What is meant by “proven”? Is it guaranteed to perform? No, guaranteed to perform AND safe to use. By proven, it means that it is ALSO no-harms tested! Reputable fuel conditioners use no-harms tested ingredients. These ingredients and functions go through rigorous tests to ensure they are safe for the intended application.
As demonstrated above, some of what you find in diesel conditioners are already in premium fuels, except with additives; you pay less and get much more for your money. Every premium pump diesel uses 2-EHN for cetane index increase. Most diesel fuel conditioners use 2-EHN, too, as the primary ingredient!
Many diesel conditioners, AR6900-D MAX, included were blended for and comply with EN 590 specification diesel fuel. In other words, EN 590 pump diesel + AR6900-D MAX is still EN 590 compliant. You are still using fuel the vehicle manufacturer has stipulated you must use for that engine. This makes it much more difficult for manufacturers to blame additive use as the cause of a running or mechanical issue, although some still do, given a chance.
They are many other products too: Wynns, STP, Millers Ecomax, Redex, Cataclean, Liqui moly, Forte, BG and so on. Although they vary in efficacy, none of them will harm the engine.
I accept that I am in the business of selling fuel additives and need to make a living. However, before you question my motives, please understand this. I spend many hours in any given week helping others, mainly over the telephone, to resolve vehicle performance or running difficulties. Some calls can easily last 15-30 minutes for a product on which my company may make £3. Furthermore, less than 50% of calls result in a sale because I make it very clear to the customer when I think an additive will not help or is of no value.
Sometimes there is a lot of negativity with additives because of a misunderstanding of the ACTUAL functions and benefits or the overt misselling compounded by ridiculous claims. There are correct circumstances for additive use and times when they are simply unnecessary. Again, this is a different subject for another day (See the do additives work article).
There is also the risk of not using additives. Ask one of the thousands of satisfied customers, not just ours) that have used quality cleaners to resolve running issues, warning lights, power loss, engine cutouts, etc. Ask them which is safer, fuel cleaner, or engine jumping into a limp-home mode during an overtake maneuver. A bit dramatic, I accept, but still valid.
There are now a good proportion of fuel systems and engines that are MORE at risk from not using a quality regular use fuel conditioner (or periodic system clean) or at least using premium fuel to help give the fuel system and emission control systems a fighting chance.
Not a single day goes by where I don’t receive a request for help from someone that doesn’t use additives, and now the fuel system, engine, turbo, EGR, DPF, or a combination of these are causing running difficulties. Not a single day.
So what about the Main Dealers?
This too, is very simple – draconian thinking and revenue protection. Unlike in the US and other parts of the world, manufacturers (fronted through their main dealers) have a vested interest in maintaining a “replace with new policy.” For example, suppose the main dealer plugs in their diagnostics computer and registers a faulty diesel fuel pump or faulty injectors. In that case, they must advise the customer that they require a new pump or injectors.
I have seen a bill for almost £3000 to supply and fit four new diesel injectors from one of our customers! The fact that injectors and pumps can be reconditioned or that a good quality cleaner will resolve the problem 80% of the time is irrelevant. Main dealers have little choice, and they risk falling out of favor with the manufacturer or worse, losing their franchise if they deviate from the “replace with new” policy. If you accidentally put a stain on the carpet, would you replace it without trying to clean it first?
Another reason is risk mitigation. Manufacturers and dealers are simply protecting themselves from customers that may foolishly put a harmful substance in the fuel tank, i.e., bleach (and I’m not joking) or putting fuel additives in with the oil or visa-versa. Hence, a straightforward “no additives” policy.
Last but not least, you’ll be surprised to learn that many manufacturers already use additives. That’s right, but only when it suits them. For example, a prominent European petrochemical company provided an aggressive fuel system cleaner to a well know European vehicle manufacturer because they were facing hundreds of thousands of potential warranty claims from carbon build-up on diesel fuel injectors. The additive was administered to all affected engines on a recall or during the next scheduled service, and customers were none the wiser.
So why is it different in other countries? Unlike in the UK, the US main dealers have a strong influence over the manufacturers. In many cases, the main dealer will call the shots. Unfortunately, the UK and the EU, in general, are a bit behind.
Fortunately, the law is on our side (one of the few advantages of being in the EU), and we are starting to witness a change with manufacturers and franchised dealers. It is doubtful that a dealer would even know you were using an additive unless you told them as it takes serious equipment to detect additives. You are at greater risk of a dealer refusing a warranty claim due to using contaminated (untreated) fuel than using an additive to fortify the fuel or clean the system.
I hope this helps clear up the matter for our customers. If you require any advice or help, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and a member of my team or I will be pleased to help.