May 2, 2006

As a follow-up to my
column last week on hucksters trying to sell stuff to boost your gas
mileage, I got this e-mail from Mark Wert, assistant business editor at The (Cincinnati) Enquirer, about what his team learned:

Did you know the [Environmental Protection Agency], by federal law, has been testing products that
purport to boost gas mileage for 34 years? They’ve tested [more than] 100
products, and not one has substantially boosted mileage. (A few provide
what EPA terms “very minor” improvement.) Worse, some of these products
can damage your engine — and void whatever warranty you may have. They
also might boost your car’s emissions — a problem for those of us who
live in areas with mandatory testing due to air pollution problems.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission Web site warns about specific kinds of claims:

  • “This gas-saving product improves fuel economy by 20 percent.”
    usually tout savings ranging from 12 to 25 percent. However, the
    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has evaluated or tested more than
    100 alleged gas-saving devices and has not found any product that
    significantly improves gas mileage. In fact, some “gas-saving” products
    may damage a car’s engine or cause substantial increases in exhaust

The gas-saving
products on the market fall into clearly defined categories. Although
the EPA has not tested or evaluated every product, it has tried to
examine at least one product in each category… 

  • “After installing your product on my car, I got an extra 4 miles [6.4 kilometers] per gallon [3.8 liters].”
    ads feature glowing testimonials by satisfied customers. Yet, few
    consumers have the ability or the equipment to test for precise changes
    in gas mileage after installing a gas-saving product. Many variables
    affect fuel consumption, including traffic, road and weather
    conditions and the car’s condition.

For example, one
consumer sent a letter to a company praising its “gas-saving” product.
At the time the product was installed, however, the consumer also had
received a complete engine tune-up — a fact not mentioned in the
letter. The entire increase in gas mileage attributed to the
“gas-saving” product may well have been the result of the tune-up
alone. But from the ad, other consumers could not have known that.

  • “This gas-saving device is approved by the federal government.”
    government agency endorses gas-saving products for cars. The most that
    can be claimed in advertising is that the EPA has reached certain
    conclusions about possible gas savings by testing the product or by
    evaluating the manufacturer’s own test data. If the seller claims that
    its product has been evaluated by the EPA, ask for a copy of the EPA
    report, or check for information. In some instances, false claims of EPA testing or approval have been made.

As Mark mentioned, the EPA has tested more than 100 products. Here is a list of some of the products and devices tested:

following list categorizes various types of “gas-saving” products,
explains how they’re used and gives product names. Those with asterisks
may save measurable, but small, amounts of gas. All others have been
found not to increase fuel economy.

Air Bleed Devices.
These devices bleed air into the carburetor. They usually are installed
in the Positive Crankcase Ventilation line or as a replacement for
idle-mixture screws. [See the FTC Web site for the specific products evaluated by the EPA.]

Vapor Bleed Devices.
These devices are similar to the air bleed devices, except that induced
air is bubbled through a container of a water and anti-freeze mixture,
usually located in the engine compartment. […]

Liquid Injection. These products add liquid into the fuel/air intake system and not directly into the combustion chamber. […]

Ignition Devices. These devices are attached to the ignition system or are used to replace original equipment or parts. […]

Fuel Line Devices (heaters or coolers).
These devices heat the fuel before it enters the carburetor. Usually,
the fuel is heated by the engine coolant or by the exhaust or
electrical system. […]

Fuel Line Devices (magnets).
These magnetic devices, clamped to the outside of the fuel line or
installed in the fuel line, claim to change the molecular structure of
gasoline. […]

Fuel Line Devices (metallic).
Typically, these devices contain several dissimilar metals that are
installed in the fuel line, supposedly causing ionization of the fuel. […]

Mixture Enhancers (under the carburetor)
These devices are mounted between the carburetor and intake manifold
and supposedly enhance the mixing or vaporization of the air/fuel
mixture. […]

Mixture Enhancers (others). These devices make some general modifications to the vehicle intake system. […]

Internal Engine Modifications. These devices make physical or mechanical function changes to the engine. […]

Accessory Drive Modifiers
. These devices reduce power to specific auto accessories. […]

Fuels and Fuel Additives. These materials are added to the gas tank. […]

Oils and Oil Additives. Usually these materials are poured into the crankcase. […]

Driving Habit Modifiers. These are lights or sound devices to tell the driver to reduce acceleration or to shift gears. […]

Still for Sale

My wife and I noticed
something while riding bikes through the neighborhood last night. For
the first time in years, homes that were put up for sale months ago are still
sitting there, unsold.

Now part of the issue
is that our neighbors have lost their minds when it comes to their
asking price. But it turns out that this is happening nationwide. Here
is a story from The Washington Post.

Still, the National Association of Realtors
says sales of existing homes rose in March — even though the national
median existing-home price had risen more than 7 percent from its March
2005 figure.

The Boston Globe and the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel also have stories about homes sitting on the market much longer than they used to. In Boston, it takes a month longer to sell a home now than it did in 2001. In Palm Beach County, Fla., it takes two or three months longer now to sell a home than it used to.    

Bird Flu Prep

A friend of mine who
works for the local health department told me this weekend that his
agency is cross-training employees in preparation for an epidemic that
might keep a third of the staff out of the office. It made me think
that I have not heard of one newsroom that has taken on similar

This week, the federal government said if bird flu, or another super strain, broke out, up to 40 percent of the national workforce could be off the job.

My friend tells me
that part of his agency’s plan is to figure out how to get more people
to telecommute — do their work from home online.

The federal
government’s advice included telling employers to have workers remain
at least three feet apart and try to avoid personal contact such as
office meetings — use the phone or teleconference instead.

More resources:

Follow the birds with an MSNBC online interactive project.

Great Use of Maps

I want to point you toward two very good stories that make wonderful use of online mapping technology. WTHR-13 in Indianapolis
looked into why so many tornado sirens don’t work. They also mapped
where the sirens — and the holes — are located in a nine-county coverage area.

The New York Times
used mapping technology to plot out murders that occurred between 2003
and 2005. The mapping turned up some interesting new insights into crime in that city.

Between 2003 and 2005, 1,662 murders were committed in New York.
Men and boys were responsible for 93 percent of the murders; their
victims tended to be other men and boys; and in more than half the
cases, the killer and victim knew each other.

In addition, an interesting, though uncommon, group of murders
involved a handful of victims who died of injuries one or more years
after being stabbed, shot, beaten or burned and were counted as murder
victims in the year in which they died.

We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.

Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a
compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a
variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When
the information comes directly from another source, it will be
attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The column is
fact-checked, but depends upon the accuracy and integrity of the
original sources cited. Errors and inaccuracies found will be corrected.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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