It’s been long debated whether or not fuel injector cleaner or other fuel additives have any effect on your vehicle’s fuel system, or if it’s just marketing and automotive “snake oil.” So do fuel injector cleaners and additives actually work? Or is it just a scheme to make these companies some extra money? Let’s find out.
How Fuel Injector Cleaner Works
In your typical combustion engine (99.9% of vehicles on the road), gasoline is essentially “burned” producing energy that the powers your engine – and vehicle. When you burn anything, you’re not transforming the solid matter into energy (if you could, you’d solve the majority of problems on Earth), but rather releasing stored energy within whatever you are burning.
When you burn gas in an engine, most of it is released as a gas-byproducts, venting out of your exhaust pipe. But, the combustion process is never perfect, and not all of your gasoline is released in gas-form as exhaust. Think of this like a campfire: The large majority of your wood produces fire and smoke (energy and gas), but you’re left with the coals (leftover solids). And this is essentially what happens inside your engine: as gasoline produces “fire” (energy) and exhaust (gas byproduct) it still leaves behind solid deposits inside your engine and fuel lines. This is what fuel system cleaners are intended for: to remove these deposits.
The deposits build up on the internal components of your vehicle, reducing the air flow necessary for a properly functioning engine. Engines function from a using an optimal mixture of gasoline and air to produce an engine-specific combustion reaction and the deposits can mess with that perfect balance. As they build up in your fuel system (over the years) can cause a variety of problems including: reduced fuel economy, rough idling, smoke, and reduced power. You can think of this like what happens when the arteries of someone with atherosclerosis. Eating too much fatty foods builds up in your arteries forming plaques which reduce blood flow and cause less-than-optimal performance. So, we need to get in there and clean it out!
The deposits in your car, however, are almost entirely carbon-based, and if we’re getting chemically technical, carboxyl compounds, and as a result can be quite difficult to remove. Thankfully, there is a chemical that is specifically designed to dissolve these carboxyl deposits, and its name is polyetheramine, or PEA for short. While there are several different solvents and chemicals in fuel injector cleaner, PEA is hands down the most powerful and effective at removing carbon deposits. PEA is also known by the name Techron, a mixture patented by Chevron. We won’t get into the chemistry of it, but basically PEA dissolves the deposits, allowing them to be “washed” away safely by your fuel system. And now we’ve reached the truth about fuel injector cleaners:
If your fuel injector or additive does not contain any (or enough) PEA, it likely won’t do anything for your vehicle.
*Quick Note: This is why Chevron advertises its gasoline as having “Chevron with Techron,” since it can help the maintenance of your vehicle due to the presence of PEA. But, the Techron in the gasoline is in very small amounts and if you’ve never done it, your vehicle could probably benefit from some cleaner.
What is The Best Fuel Injector Cleaner?
We now know that the most active ingredient in fuel system cleaner is polyetheramine (PEA). Some brands fuel the misconception (sorry for the pun) that these cleaners work, since they don’t include PEA in their recipes, or at least not enough to be active, instead filling their bottles with alcohols, kerosene or other fillers. We’ve put together a quick list of the best fuel system cleaners we recommend so you can choose one that actually works.
When you’re ready to use it, you most typically just pour the entire bottle down an almost entirely empty gas tank. It’s also recommended by some people to treat the vehicle every oil change, which is likely a little overkill. For a ~$10 treatment every other oil change, though, you can potentially extend the economy and lifespan of your vehicle.
Chevron Techron Concentrate
It should be no surprise that the company who patented PEA into what it’s typically known as: Techron, is at the top of our list. This cleaner has PEA as a primary ingredient, which will act to clean out all that gunk in your fuel system restoring your fuel economy and performance of your vehicle. Depending on the last time you gave your vehicle this treatment, you may need to do it a couple times but this is just one of those products that works. The only downside? You’re paying for the name brand so it can be a little more expensive than some of the others on this list. Read More Reviews Here
Red Line Fuel System Cleaner
Red Line is another one of the most effective products you can get. It’s got one of the highest concentrations of PEA compared to all the other brands, so you know that it’s actually going to work. The high PEA concentration will clean out all the gunky carbon compounds in your vehicle, improving fuel economy, power and idling. This isn’t designed for diesel engines, although Red Line does make one specifically for diesels. Besides Techron, this is the product we most commonly recommend. Read More Reviews Here
BG44K Fuel System Cleaner
Ever wonder what your dealer or mechanic uses when they perform this service for you? It’s most likely BG44K. This is a very powerful product that will clean out your fuel lines and leave your car running like new again. While the service will cost you up to $100 at the dealer, you can get a can for around $15 and do it yourself at the gas station. BG44K can restore your vehicle’s intended fuel economy, solve a rough idle issue and improve the lifespan of your vehicle. It’s a little bit on the pricey side, but you can be confident you’re getting something that actually does the job and does it good. Read More Reviews Here
Royal Purple Fuel System Cleaner
Royal Purple is another brand that produces quality and trusted automotive oils, lubricants and additives. Their fuel line treatments are no exception, and as a result has a deserved spot on our list. Their mixture has a good amount of PEA, so you can trust it’s actually working on you’re not just wasting your time and money. This is one of the most affordable treatments available as well, although like with the others, you may need more than one to get the desired effect. Don’t use them simultaneously though, do them one at a time. Read More Reviews Here
Lucas Fuel Injector Cleaner
If you’re anything like us and try to buy in bulk to save whenever possible, then you should consider this 1 gallon treatment by Lucas. This is another one of the brands that automotive dealers and shops will likely use, since it’s effective and affordable. Lucas has a good amount of PEA that will effectively flush out the deposits from your fuel lines, restoring your fuel efficiency, power and overall performance of your vehicle. The downside is that you have to store this 1 gallon bottle, but if you have the space, it shouldn’t be an issue. There’s enough in there to treat 400 gallons so you should be covered for a while, and at a fraction of the cost of smaller treatments. Read More Reviews Here
Didn’t see the brand your friend recommended on our list? There are more products out there that work, these are just our favourites. Here’s some more to check out if you don’t see the one you were looking for. Always read the reviews and see if PEA is an active ingredient!