A close look at some of those friction-free engine oils and additives

Does it work? Will it increase the mileage in my car or won't it, someone asked me the other day. He was talking about Tufoil, an oil-additive product invented by Franklin Reick in his Westwood, N.J. garage and now sold by his company, Fluoramics Inc.

Tufoil is just one of a host of such products now on the market shelf. Then there are the super oils, some of them synthetic, which promise more distance on a full tank of gas. Is it any wonder that the harried motorist, faced with sharply rising costs in the operation of his car, is puzzled.

Should he spend his money and take a chance? A lot of motorists do just that , of course. Some are disappointed.

Tufoil has been around for the last few years and is gradually increasing its penetration in the marketplace. It contains tiny particles of Du Pont's nonstick Teflon in suspension, which is designed to reduce engine friction and thus increase mileage on the road. Many people say it does exactly what it says it will do. Others aren't so sure. Everyone agrees on one thing, however -- it won't hurt the car.

Clearly, Tufoil is expensive; an 8-ounce bottle costs $14.95 or more. In order to get your money back at the pump, the miles per galleon increase would have to be substantial, depending on how far you drive your car in a year.

Indeed, Tufoil has been tried in police- department vehicles and automotive fleets, by newspaper reporters and the Massachusetts National Guard, among others. The response to the product is usually good but not everyone who makes a positive report has decided to buy it.

"We ran Tufoil in some of our vehicles for a short period of time," reports Guido Pettinelli of the Quincy, Mass., police department, "and for that period of time there was an improvement in gas mileage. We can't say that there wasn't. But then we didn't go on with the product. I guess the cost was so high."

Mr. Pettinelli says that the mechanic in charge at the time, now retired, felt that it would not pay the department to make the switch.

The mechanic also said that after the initial increase in mileage in a couple of patrol cars, it fell off again.

This has been my experience in my 10- year-old VW beetle. When I tried a can of Tufoil in the car a year ago, the mileage jumped immediately from 32 mpg to almost 40 -- an incredible boost. Yet the figure gradually fell back to the original 32. Even with the addition of more Tufoil to the car, the mileage remains in the 32 to 33 mpg range. While there may be a slight increase in overall mpg, it is small indeed, considering the cost of the product.

Nonetheless, the automotive editors of several major newspapers in the US report a decided increase in mileage with their cars, with one reporting a jump of 25 percent.

In fairness, the fact that my VW beetle has a small-output, 4-cylinder engine probably limits the opportunity for any kind of significant improvement in mileage on the road.

Another editor, who drove a 1968 Ford Mustang with a 200-cubic-inch 6 -cylinder engine on a 3,000-mile trip to Florida and back last June, tested not only Tufoil but another fuel additive, Gasohol-Plus. Before adding anything to the car, however, he drove from Boston to North Carolina at a steady highway speed, averaging out at 21.77 mpg.

"The following four fillups included the addition of Gasohol-Plus," he said. "Despite the promise of substantially higher mileage, the test showed no appreciable change in mileage. The overall average was 21.42 mpg under essentially identical driving conditions."

Just to make certain that nothing had changed, he reported a brief test without any additive in the car.

"Conditions were slightly different and there was a small amount of city driving as well," he added. Mileage checked out at a fraction under 21, indicating no change in engine conditions.

Finally, he had the engine-oil changed, installed a new filter, and added Tufoil to the crankcase. "Results were almost immediately evident," he reported.

"The first tank yielded 22.8 mpg, best of the entire trip. Succeeding mileages were 23.4, 22.6, 24.2, and 23.4, with an overall average of 23.45, and improvement, on average, of 1.58 mpg over no additive."

It works out to an increase of just under 7 percent.

Last summer the Department of Energy finally ran some dynamometer tests,

Not only on Tufoil but also on some of the special motor oils made by the major petroleum companies, such as Mobil No. 1, a synthetic. The DOT reported that Mobil No. 1 showed a 3.6 percent for Arco Graphite, and 2.8 to 5 percent for Tufoil. Exxon Uniflo showed no increase at all.

The less than dramatic increase after Tufoil may also be tied to the 4 -cylinder Pontiac in which it was tried.

Again, a car with a bigger engine may have had a better chance.

In any event, what works for one motorist may not work for another. Driving habits are too individual. Thus, the motorist has to decide what's right for him on the road.

Conservative driving habits are one of the best ways around to increase the mpg in your car.

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