Troubleshooter: When gas prices skyrocket, fuel-saving gadgets come out

Ask: why don’t all major vehicle fleets use them?

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As of this writing, average Canadian prices for regular unleaded gasoline have reached a new and grotesque milestone of over $2 per litre. And as expected, pop-up and spam ads for fuel-efficient appliances are appearing faster than dandelions on suburban lawns. With every spike in fuel prices, a new batch of products claiming 20% ​​improved gas mileage tries to capitalize on our commute sorrow and must save money. The latest fad is really nothing new: plug-in motor control chips.

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Performance enthusiasts, off-roaders and modified truck owners have used engine control software plug-ins for years to improve power, match non-stock tire sizes and increase top speeds. And while the effects of most of these products are measurable, so are the risks.

The chips, proms or plug-ins we’re talking about are those that fit into the industry standard diagnostic connector under the left side of the dash of nearly every vehicle on the road. They basically come in two formats: those that permanently rewrite the factory transmission control software, and those that only provide a temporary fix that is undone when the plug-in is removed. In theory, these types of add-ons have the best chance of actually improving fuel mileage if you don’t mind risking factory warranty coverage or engine longevity.

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It would be easy for a programmer to alter fuel injection rates and ignition timing to get the most out of a liter of fuel. There would likely be a slight drop in peak horsepower and torque, and even a slight increase in engine operating temperature. Over time, a modification like this can certainly save you money, but at what risk? How would engine reliability be affected? Will any emission control components be damaged or have a shortened life? And what about the factory warranty?

Although an owner may remove their plug-in device before taking the vehicle to the dealership for certain warranty repairs, their activities may leave a trace of its operation in the memory of the on-board computer that can be retrieved by a technician. . If this warranty repair involves anything related to the engine control system, the manufacturer may deny coverage. Much like most aftermarket fuel economy upgrade offerings of the past, there are more unanswered questions than usable information in their pitches.

Let’s leave with this question: if these products are really effective and safe to use, why don’t all major vehicle fleets use them and why don’t car manufacturers provide their software benefits from the factory?

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