Do fuel injector cleaners and octane boosters work?
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Snake oil, or magical potion? Let's find out what fuel & engine cleaning additives do, and whether they actually work.

Category: Car Technical Advice

What are additives? Think of it as vitamin supplements, but for your car. Vitamin supplements can be highly beneficial to the health of those who aren't able to meet their daily nutritional requirements. Of course, there are sayings that they are beneficial for everyone.

Likewise, fuel additives, such as a fuel injector cleaner or an octane booster can offer tangible benefits - provided that your car requires it. And often, there are little to no harm to using them, other than the cost of buying them.

Types of fuel additives

To find out if your car can benefit from a fuel additive, you need to know what additives are commonly available in the market, and what they actually do.

1. Fuel injector cleaners / fuel system cleaners

Fuel system cleaners help to get rid of deposits in your engine
These fuel cleaning additives are formulated to get rid of deposits that are left in your car's fuel system, such as the injectors, valves and piston tops. With regular usage, deposits build up, restricts fuel delivery and cause reduced engine performance and poor fuel economy.

Fuel injector cleaners and fuel system cleaners attempt to get rid of the deposits so as to restore the engine's efficiency and performance.

2. Octane boosters

Octane boosters should only be used if your car requires a higher octane fuel than what you can obtain
Octane boosters are made to increase the octane of the fuel. They aren't all the same though, as some are more effective than others. You shouldn't be getting one of these if your intention is to make your car go faster - that simply isn't how it works.

Higher octane fuel is more knock-resistant (the fuel can withstand more pressure before detonating), and is usually required by performance engines. You should only be considering the use of octane boosters if your car requires fuel of a higher octane level than what you are able to obtain.

3. Fuel stabilisers

Have a collectible classic car sitting around? You might want to consider using fuel stabilisers
Yes, fuel does go bad. Petrol can degrade over a time of as short as three months when stored in a sealed container, if left in a car's fuel tank, it will start to degrade in about month's time. Fuel stabilisers are additives that prolong the lifespan of stored fuel by preventing oxidation. They are engineered to bond with petrol to create a protective layer in order to extend the lifespan of fuels.

These additives are best used in cars that are not driven often, and aren't started up for weeks on ends - such as collectible classic cars.

4. Performance enhancement / fuel-saving additives

While some can be effective, performance enhancement additives can be costly
These are usually a combination of octane boosters and fuel cleaning additives - as the effect of them can all contribute to improved performance and fuel economy, albeit not by a long shot.

Such additives are generally suitable for all kinds of cars and are unlikely to result in any harmful effects. However, they can be rather costly and the high cost often outweighs the benefits, if any.
Engine oil additives

Generally, there isn't a need for engine oil additives - regular servicing with premium engine oil will suffice
Aside from fuel additives, there are also engine oil additives available in the market. Some of these will claim to reduce friction and allow your engine to run smoother, improving the power and efficiency of your engine.

However, as long as you stick to a premium quality engine oil you should be fine. Oil companies spend much time and money to research and develop engine oils that are already loaded with additives to help maintain a clean and healthy engine - you shouldn't have to splurge on additional additives.

Moreover, there's always a slight chance of an incompatible additive resulting in a worse performing engine oil than before.
So should I use a fuel or engine oil additive?

Fuel system cleaning additives aren't magic, if the deposit build-up is substantial, your engine might need a thorough overhaul
Well, as mentioned right at the start, fuel additives can be useful - only if you know what you need. Don't just go out and purchase all kinds of fuel additives to dump into your car's fuel tank, and then wonder if you have just wasted your money. Generally, avoiding low grade petrol at the pumps should allow your engine to run clean and healthily.

If there's really a need, you might consider the use of fuel system cleaning additives once or twice a year to keep your car's fuel system and injectors clean. But remember, the innards of your engine can only be cleaned that much without being taken apart for a thorough overhaul.

Most importantly, just keep to a timely routine of high quality engine oil changes and top your car up with premium-grade fuel and it should be fine - just like how a healthy diet and regular exercise will keep the doctor away.
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