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June 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Too Good to Be True?

An engineering expert takes exception to the promises of better fuel economy, extended oil intervals and reduced emissions made by suppliers of fuel additives, engine attachments and other aftermarket products. The first of a two-part article.

by Dan Herman


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So, aftermarket suppliers tell the EPA what they are selling and don’t have to prove anything about what impact it has and can keep their formula secret from their competitors and you. The engine manufacturers have to certify the emissions performance impact of every modification they apply to their product.

Warranty compliance. When someone installs an attachment on or injects an additive to an engine, the engine manufacturer cannot flatly state that this act automatically voids the warranty. The aftermarket suppliers take advantage of that situation with statements like “covered by warranty,” or “does not void the warranty” or similar.

Actually, when the aftermarket supplier petitions the manufacturer for a warranty approval, the manufacturer will reply with a statement that sounds basically like this: “We (OEM) are unable to evaluate all the devices, materials and services submitted for approval and have not been able to evaluate this product. For this reason we cannot comment on the efficacy of it. Therefore, use of this product does not void the warranty on our engines unless a failure occurs that can be attributed to the use of the product. In that event the warranty will not be in effect.” This is a standard response used by engine and vehicle manufacturers, and I had occasion to issue letters like this during my working life.

The conspiracy theory
A common sales appeal from aftermarket suppliers is to portray the OEMs and the oil companies as an evil cabal that schemes to keep fuel economy and emissions improvements off the market to ensure that they can sell more oil.

After more than 40 years of working inside the engine and vehicle manufacturing industry, I have a different perspective based on simple economic analysis and personal observation.

It starts with a “bottom line” question: why don’t the OEM or oil companies use this product, or why doesn’t the EPA mandate its use? From an economic view, consider that the OEMs have expended billions of dollars and countless hours in design, test, tooling and manufacturing facilities in pursuit of compliance to increasingly stringent emissions standards. Plus, the product cost of the engine and the vehicle has been increased by thousands of dollars for equipment changes and additions to achieve compliance.

The engine and vehicle business is very competitive and chief among the competitive factors is product cost. If the addition of a simple device costing, say, $50 would enable the elimination of hundreds or thousands of dollars in other equipment, isn’t it logical that the manufacturers would leap at this opportunity to comply with emissions laws or improve fuel economy at a great cost advantage over their competitors? I think so, and so should you.

If the addition of a trace amount of an additive to the fuel stock at the refinery would produce a similar vehicle cost reduction, isn’t it likely that the OEMs would petition the EPA to mandate this additive? Here is where my personal observation supports a “yes” answer.

Over the 20-plus years of emissions development, many changes to the engine design have resulted in increased demands on the lubricating oil. Examples include tolerance of increased soot contamination and greater control of foaming. At these times the engine manufacturers, individually and as a group, have asked the petroleum companies for significant revisions to the oil formulation, additives, etc.

In all cases, the oil formulation has been changed to support the engine manufacturers’ needs and in a timely manner to achieve the compliance deadlines. When the significantly reduced particulate matter limit for 1994 was approaching, it was evident that the standard could not be met with the existing sulfur content in the fuel of that time. The sulfur content was often as high as 1,500 parts per million (ppm) and compliance could only be achieved if the level were reduced to no more than 500 ppm. In response to this need of the engine manufacturers, the EPA mandated that the oil companies reduce the sulfur content in on-highway fuel in time for the 1994 compliance date. And they did.

Another dramatic reduction of sulfur content (to 15 ppm) is mandated and will occur by the end of 2006 to enable the manufacturers to implement the new diesel particulate filter technology.

These are only two of the examples of cooperation among the engine manufacturers, the oil companies and the EPA to achieve reduced emissions.

All these things were accompanied by a lot of grumbling and complaining, cost increases and predictions of dire consequences, but in the end the three groups worked together to achieve the common goal of cleaner air. I believe this supports my assertion that if a trace additive could significantly reduce emissions and the cost of compliance, that engine manufacturers would demand it vigorously, and the EPA would support it.

Stay tuned for Part 2
If you don’t agree with my observation and still believe that supplementary measures are needed to improve the performance and efficiency of your fleet, then watch for the second installment of this article in an upcoming issue, where I will provide you with a series of questions to ask when someone promises great improvements with simple efforts.

Dan Herman is retired and doing some consulting after nearly 42 years with International Truck and Engine Corp. He spent more than 30 years as an engineer involved with design and development of vehicles and engines.

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