We’re driving more than we were able to do last year. Gas prices are creeping upward and thoughts return to saving fuel. I received an email advertising a gizmo that claims to make a revolutionary change in the way my car operates. Or rather someone else’s car. My 1991 Chevy is absolutely set in its habits. Plugged into the OBD port of a modern car, which is its electronic information window, the device promises to alter the fuel injection characteristics going to the engine. Great gasoline savings await the lucky user. Price as advertised was $40, but I saw identical devices online for as little as 5 bucks. Shouldn’t we be skeptical immediately? Car manufacturers are under government pressure to produce highly fuel-efficient cars with minimal emissions. Did you notice that on a new vehicle, the original set of tires is rarely as good as the second set you pick yourself? That’s because manufacturers choose low rolling resistance for fuel economy, while most of us prefer improved road grip.
A real lab test, seen on YouTube, quickly exposes that electronic miracle device as a gimmick. The one sent to the tester made a flashing display of LED lights when connected to a car computer. But its microchip wasn’t even wired to the port where it could communicate with the car. I find this comforting because the last thing I’d want is a car doing things its own way and interfering with driver control. But if it’s just $5, the busy light show may be useful for impressing a naive passenger.
Saving gas is possible. Even the methods Grandpa used in his 1965 Plymouth Barracuda are still good. Tire pressure is the most important. Check the little sticker inside the door frame, buy a good tire gauge and maybe even a home air compressor. The compressor will quickly turn out to be useful for a lot of other tasks, too. The gas savings from proper air pressure (it changes with the weather!) are supplemented by a clean air filter. That’s the one in a black enclosure somewhere on top of the engine. Spending $50 on a washable, re-usable one saves having to buy a new one every time. Finally, instead of trying to let an electronic gizmo demonstrate how to use the gas pedal more gently, one can learn this without any help as well. It’s money in the bank.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of physical science at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.