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.
The Best Fuel Injector Cleaners
Before we go in-depth, let’s take a quick look at our top five choices. This will allow you to see the differences between the most popular options. After, you can read on for more information about how these products work, and to find our complete review of each option.
|Chevron Techron||Red Line||BG44K||Royal Purple||Lucas|
Full or Empty
Very Dirty Engines
Keeping Engine Clean
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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 You Should Look For
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 comparison of the top choices on the market. We’ll show you which are the strongest, which are the safest, and which are the most cost effective.
PEA free products aren’t totally bunk. In some cases where you have an old, filthy engine, running a few bottles through before you run a PEA cleaner can help remove the big bulky chunks of carbon deposits. But for most consumers, this is unnecessary. Alcohol based fuel injector cleaners are often used with old vehicles that barely run, and these types of repairs should be carried out by a certified mechanic. Most consumers are simply looking to keep their vehicle running well, or troubleshoot moderate performance issues. If your car still runs, you want a PEA cleaner.
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.
We’ve given you a rough idea of what to look for, but there is still quite a lot of difference between specific brands. Up next, we’ll be going through and showing you our favorite fuel injector cleaner. We’ll go through each product one by one and show you what it has to offer. After, we’ll help you select the one that’s right for you.
Best Fuel Injector Cleaner Reviews
1. Chevron Techron Concentrate Injector Cleaner
It should come as no surprise to see Techron make the top of our list. The company that first patented the very additive that’s now found in all of the best fuel system cleaner solutions should definitely be one of your first choices.
Techron has a higher concentration of PEA than most other cleaners on the market. If you’re starting to have serious troubles with your vehicle, this is the heavy muscle you want. We had an old Honda SUV that was approaching 19 years old. The car was new to us, but we’re pretty sure that it had never had the injectors cleaned. When accelerating from a stop, the car had very jerky movement and felt as if it was lacking power. We ran two bottles through. The first bottle help smooth out the idle, but didn’t really help with the acceleration much. After running a second bottle though, the cars performance drastically improved.
Techron is one of the most aggressive products on the market, and is best suited to vehicles that are starting to have performance issues. Our car was older, and had throttle body injection. Although not as eco friendly, this older type of fuel injection can really take a lot more abuse than modern vehicles. Most modern vehicles have fuel injectors that inject straight into the cylinders. For these cars, your injectors really have to be functioning well. With this in mind, we recommend Techron for an older vehicle with serious problems, or any modern vehicle that hasn’t been properly cleaned at regular intervals.
This is the brand name fuel injector cleaner, and you are going to pay a premium for it. While it can be a godsend for any vehicle that is experiencing problems if you’re just looking for something you can run through at regular intervals you might be better off with a cheaper solution.
2. Red Line Fuel System Cleaner
Red line is another contender for the best fuel injector cleaner. It has the highest concentration of PEA per volumetric unit than other option on the market. Additionally, it contains a few additives such as cylinder lube oil which can help keep your engine running smoothly.
On older vehicles, adding a bit of cylinder oil is a good idea. Although you pay a little more for this option, anyone regularly running fuel cleaner through their gas tank will end up saving the time and money required to oil their cylinders. In essence, you can look at this as a 2 in 1 solution.
Another nice thing about this cleaner is that it’s designed to be used with a full tank of gas. With many options (such as techron) you add the mixture to a nearly empty gas tank and idle your engine for a while. With this one, you pour the bottle into your near-empty tank right before you fill up and the pump. When filling the tank, the cleaner is mixed up with the fuel and cleans your engine continually.
Red line is definately designed to be used at regular intervals. They recommend every 3000 miles, although you could easily get away with leaving it to 5000 miles. Because of its aggressive composition, this is our top choice for a vehicle that has been neglected over its lifespan.
3. BG44K Fuel Injector Cleaner
BG44K is the secret weapon of many mechanics. Surprisingly, it’s not always available locally. But if you dig around online you’ll find it, and we’re willing to put money on the fact that you’ll find a bottle on your favorite mechanic’s shelf.
This package is an all-in-one deal where you get three cans plus a funnel that helps you pour it out easily. This is another fairly aggressive treatment that can clean out a ton of carbon deposits with just one usage. Unlike the Red Line, BG44K isn’t something you necessarily have to use all the time. Simply run a can through if you’re having any problems with your vehicle, then move on to a cheaper option if you’re looking to regularly maintain a clean engine.
Many consumers have noticed that their vehicle runs more smoothly after using this cleaner, and modern vehicles can also see an improvement in fuel economy.
One key thing that you need to know is that this cleaner is not suitable for diesel vehicles or LPG fired engines. This is strictly for gasoline-only automotives, so keep that in mind.
4. Royal Purple Gas Injector Cleaner
Royal Purple is another brand that produces quality and trusted auto 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.
The low price is mainly due to how it’s meant to be used. it doesn’t have that ultra-aggressive chemical composition that’s designed to remove years of carbon buildup. Instead, this is something that you add to every tank to help keep a properly functioning engine running well. This is a popular choice for consumers in areas where the fuel quality is low, as it can keep an engine running smoothly. Alternatively, this is a great choice to use after you’ve cleaned your engine with one of the more aggressive options.
Despite it’s affordable price, it’s still been highly reviewed by many people who found it worked very well. If you’re engine is running alright but feels like it could use a tune up, this is a great place to start.
5. 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 best fuel system cleaners 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 of fuel so you should be covered for a while, and at a fraction of the cost of smaller treatments.
In the seafoam vs lucas debate, lucas wins almost every time. It’s not quite as stong, but two runs of this stuff is still cheaper than a single run of seafoam, and this stuff works just as well.
While not all vehicles need to be cleaned regularly if you’ve got a vehicle more than a few years old we highly recommend running this with every other tank to help keep your vehicle running smoothly. This is by far the best bang for your buck, and it can end up saving you a ton of money for future maintenance.
What’s the Best Fuel System Cleaner to Fix a Nonfunctional Vehicle?
While these products have helped many consumers improve the performance of their vehicles, there is still a limit to what they can do. Years of neglecting to clean your injectors will eventually lead to a vehicle that just doesn’t run well. Once you get to this point, or amount of commercially available chemicals can help you. Often, your engine will require a complete rebuild by a professional.
Fuel injector cleaner should be used before your vehicle gets to that point. Just like regular oil changes, keeping your fuel injectors clean is essential when it comes to getting a long life out of your vehicle.
What’s the Best Injector Cleaner for an Older Vehicle?
For the most part, age does’t really matter. Newer vehicles that have direct injection require more regular cleaning, as do older vehicles that have been abused. If you regularly run a cleaner on an older vehicle with throttle body injection, you can probably get away with running a bottle every 5 to 7k miles.
There is, however, one exception to this rule. In most vehcles made in the 70s or earlier (as well as a few rare examples from the 80s) your engine may be carbeurated. Carborated engines cannot use these products. Instead, you should find something designed specifically for carbeurated engines.
Didn’t see the brand your friend recommended on our list? There are more products out there that work, these are just our favorites. 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!