Are Fuel Additives Safe?

Due to an increasing number of enquiries concerning fuel additive safety and propaganda from vehicle manufacturers I took the step to update 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 when used as per the manufacturer’s instructions, has resulted in any form of short, medium or long term damage to a fuel system or engine. Sure, there are many products that 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, turbo chargers or the very latest particulate filters or Euro6 high pressure fuel systems.  There are, of course, rare stories of failures or issues but in all cases I have examined, they were the result of an underlying issue and not related to additive use.

Please note that this is not a licence 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 does my main dealer and car manual insist on no fuel additives?  Why is there a warning sticker near the filler cap?

Very simple:

Firstly, ignorance.  In any life endeavour knowledge is power; 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 normally filled with incorrect (usually a reiteration someone else’s opinion/beliefs) or fabricated information (nothing more than guessing) and 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 is poor.  Unfortunately with fuel additives some are falling for the negative PR, parroting what someone else has already misunderstood/misquoted or just second guessing.

Please note this article is about the safety of additive use and not efficacy.  I’m sure many are aggrieved with the performance and spurious claims of some additives 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 most diesel applications – AR6900-D MAX

It contains:

Latest DW-10 proven detergent package

2-EHN
Proven diesel fuel system lubricant
Proven fuel catalyst
Proven water handling
Proven dispersant, demulsifier, stabiliser and anti-corrosion pack.

What is meant by “proven”?  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 are ingredients and functions that 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 fuel conditioners, AR6900-D MAX included were blended for and comply with ES 590 specification diesel fuel.  In other words, EN 590 pump diesel + AR6900-D MAX is still EN 590 compliant.  You are still using fuel that 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 the chance.

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, mostly over the telephone, to resolve vehicle performance or running difficulties.  Some calls can easily last 15-30 minutes for a product my company may make £3 on.  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 not needed.  Again, this is 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 cut outs and so on.  Ask them which is safer, fuel cleaner or engine jumping into limp-home mode during an overtake manoeuvre.  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 some other parts of the world, manufactures (fronted through their main dealers) have a vested interest in maintaining a “replace with new policy”. For example, if a main dealer plugs in their diagnostics computer and it registers a faulty diesel fuel pump or faulty injectors then 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 4 new diesel injectors from one of our customers! The fact that injectors and pumps can be reconditioned or that a good quality cleaner will 80% of the time resolve the problem is irrelevant. Main dealers have little choice and they risk falling out of favour with the manufacture or worse, losing their franchise if they deviate from the “replace with new” policy. If you accidently put a stain on the carpet would just replace the carpet 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 straight forward “no additives” policy.

Last but not least you’ll be surprised to learn that many manufactures already use additives. That’s right, but only when it suits them. For example, a prominent European petrochemicals 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 effected 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 manufactures. In many cases it is the main dealer that will call the shots. Unfortunately in the UK and the EU in general are a little 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.  In fact, it is highly unlikely that a dealer would even know you were using an additive unless you told them as it takes serious equipment to detect additives.  The reality is that 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 then please don’t hesitate to contact me and either I or a member of my team will be pleased to help.